Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: April 7, 2022

Provider Relief Fund – Request to Report Late Due to Extenuating Circumstances. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has established a process that accounts for extenuating circumstances that may have prevented providers from submitting a completed Provider Relief Fund report. From Monday, April 11, 2022, to Friday, April 22, 2022, at 11:59 pm ET, providers will have the opportunity to submit a request for Reporting Period 1 reports.

Medicare Covers Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests. Starting April 4, 2022, through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), Medicare will cover up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests each calendar month at no cost to beneficiaries. Beneficiaries can get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at any pharmacy or health care provider that participates in this initiative. 

HRSA March News Round-Up. In March, HRSA recognized the anniversaries of the American Rescue Plan, Affordable Care Act, and Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program, worked to implement President Biden’s National Mental Health Strategy, promoted access to gender affirming care and treatment, and distributed an additional $413 million in Provider Relief Fund payments.

HHS Brings Focus to Climate Change and Health Equity. In an open access article in the New England Journal of Medicine, top officials at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) describe the rationale and approach for a newfound focus on climate change. The effort began with an executive order in January 2021, that created the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, charged with acting on health threats caused by extreme weather and prioritizing vulnerable populations. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, increasingly severe events – rising temperatures, fire, flooding, land erosion – will affect every region of the country and have an outsized impact on rural residents and economies

GAO Recommends Assessing Impact of Telehealth on Quality of Care in Medicaid. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released findings from five selected states showing a sharp increase in services delivered via telehealth to Medicaid beneficiaries following from the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020, through February 2021, 32.5 million services were delivered via telehealth to about 4.9 million beneficiaries in the five states, compared with 2.1 million services to about 455,000 beneficiaries in the 12 months prior to the pandemic. The study looks at telehealth utilization in both urban and rural areas. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, 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 $1.2 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.