Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

October 22, 2020

HHS Awards Nearly $500 Million to Workforce Programs. Last week, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a new round of funding to recruit and support primary care professionals and students for the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and other programs building the health workforce. Through these efforts, more than 16,000 clinicians provide care to 17 million patients in underserved areas nationwide.

Medicare Open Enrollment Has Begun. Medicare beneficiaries can review health and drug plans for 2021 and make changes between now and December 7. The online system helps beneficiaries compare pricing and benefits between Original Medicare (Parts A and B), Medicare prescription drug plans (Part D), Medicare Advantage plans (Part C), and individually-purchased Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policies. Free, personalized counseling on Medicare options is available through the nonprofit State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). Free materials are also available to support rural providers, among others, with outreach activities.

New Data on Local Use of Rural Hospitals. This new data brief from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explores the extent to which rural Medicare beneficiaries bypass their nearest rural hospital and which hospital services rural Medicare beneficiaries most often seek locally and at distant hospitals. Traveling to a distant hospital for services rather than using the local rural hospital, aka ‘rural bypass’, can increase financial pressure on rural providers, especially Tribal hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals. 

Report on U.S. Coal Industry. The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released the Annual Coal Report, which includes information on the number of mines, their productive capacity, prices, employment, and consumption. Highlights for 2019 include a decrease in the production, productive capacity, and average number of employees at U.S. coal mines, as well as a decrease in U.S. coal consumption. The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy manages the Black Lung Clinics Program that provides predominantly rural miners with access to educational, screening, medical, and benefits counseling services with the goal to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with occupationally-related coal mine dust lung diseases.