Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: September 16, 2021

New COVID-19 Provider Funding Available. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is making $25.5 billion in new funding available for health care providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that funding, $8.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan is designated for providers who serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or Medicare patients. The remaining $17 billion is from Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 payments for a broad range of providers who can document revenue loss and expenses associated with the pandemic. For these payments, smaller providers will receive reimbursements for lost revenues and COVID-19 expenses at a higher rate compared to larger providers. Phase 4 will also include bonus payments based on the amount of services providers furnish to Medicaid/CHIP and Medicare patients, who tend to be lower income and have greater and more complex medical needs. Providers will apply for both programs with a single application, and the application portal will open on September 29, 2021.

Grace period for PRF Reporting. To support those facing natural disasters and the Delta variant surge, HHS announced a grace period on the reporting deadline for Round 1 of the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). While the September 30 deadline for reporting has not changed, recoupment or other enforcement actions will not be initiated during the grace period, lasting October 1 – November 30, 2021

Rural Health Clinic Experiences from the COVID-19 Testing Program. The National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC) published a report on the federal program that funded COVID-19 testing in rural areas.  First launched in May 2020, the program sent a total of more than $225 million to eligible RHCs in almost every state.  The report captures how the RHCs used the funds, the challenges they faced, and anecdotes of their experiences.

Awards announced for the CMS Rural Transformation Project. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made four awards for its new, rural-focused Community Health Access and Rural Transformation (CHART) Model. This voluntary payment model, the first of its kind from the CMS Innovation Center, will test whether upfront investments, predictable capitated payments, and operational and regulatory flexibilities will enable rural health care providers to improve access to care while reducing health care costs. Selected participants are from Washington, South Dakota, Alabama, and Texas. 

GAO Examines Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. Until last year, the federal program that repays education loans for nurses required that they work only at non-profit facilities.  The pandemic-related CARES Act eliminated that restriction in March 2020, allowing Nurse Corps members to serve at for-profit critical shortage facilities (CSFs). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the change and determined that it’s too early to tell its effects. Officials at non-profit CSFs such as Critical Access Hospitals expressed concern that for-profit facilities can offer higher wages, resulting in fewer nurses willing to work at non-profit CSFs in rural and other underserved areas. 

Rural Matters Podcast Discussion on Telehealth. The bi-weekly podcast highlights federal efforts to expand telehealth to rural areas in the last year. Heather Dimeris, the Director of HRSA’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth, discusses changes in 2020 that increased telehealth visits to health centers to more than 28 million, with nearly 6 million of these visits in rural-serving facilities.