Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: March 24, 2022

Twelve Years of the Affordable Care Act. March 23rd marked the anniversary of the landmark law that has helped millions of Americans gain access to health coverage. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has issued a series of briefs over the last year analyzing how that coverage affected different segments of the population, including rural residents, older adults, immigrants, and ethnic/racial minorities.

Provider Relief Fund Reporting Period Closes Soon. The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Reporting Portal will close on March 31 for Reporting Period 2. Providers who received one or more PRF payment exceeding $10,000, in the aggregate, during the second Payment Received Period must report on their use of funds no later than March 31, 2022. Providers who fail to submit a completed report by the March 31 deadline will be subject to further enforcement actions such as repayment or exclusion from receiving and/or retaining future PRF payments. For more details, review the Reporting Non-Compliance Fact Sheet. To get started, providers must register in the Portal (if not yet completed). More information and resources can be found on the PRF Reporting web page.

FCC Requests Comments on Promoting Telehealth in Rural America – Respond by April 14. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks comment on revisions to its initiatives to fund access to broadband and telecommunication services for rural health care providers. FCC proposes to modify the way the internal funding cap applies to upfront costs and multi-year commitments in the Healthcare Connect Fund Program, and to streamline the invoice process in the Telecommunications Program. The rule also seeks comment on ways to further increase the speed of funding commitments.

Tobacco Use Down; Still High For Certain Groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 47.1 million U.S. adults (19%) reported that they were currently using any commercial tobacco product in the 2020 National Health Interview Survey.  The prevalence of cigarette smoking was higher in rural areas than urban areas among adults who were non-Hispanic Black (38% higher), Hispanic (38% higher) and non-Hispanic White (62% higher).

The Implications of Long COVID for Rural Communities. While the definition of post-COVID-19 effects has evolved, experts have identified a range of health conditions that may include shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, tachycardia, exercise intolerance, and cognitive dysfunction. In an open access article from The Journal of Rural Health, researchers report an estimated 7 to 22 million individuals in the U.S. may experience long COVID, with greater implications for rural economies and health delivery systems. 

National Poison Prevention Week  March 20 – 26. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds 55 poison control centers across the nation and the Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222). This week provides an opportunity to highlight the dangers of poisonings for people of all ages and promote community involvement in poisoning prevention. Over 2,000,000 poisonings occur annually, with nearly 43% of all exposures involving children younger than age 5. Two-thirds of calls to the Poison Help line are successfully resolved over the phone, preventing unnecessary visits to the hospital and reducing medical costs.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) launched an effort to improve access to substance use disorder treatment by paying for providers who are waivered to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.  Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) still have the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 payment on behalf of each provider who trained to obtain the waiver necessary to prescribe buprenorphine after January 1, 2019.  Approximately $1.5 million in program funding remains available for RHCs and will be paid on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted. Send questions to DATA2000WaiverPayments@hrsa.gov. There is ongoing availability of a free online course for waiver eligibility training from the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine and the Providers Clinical Support System.