Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: September 23, 2021

HHS and USDA Launch Resource Guide for Child Care in Rural Areas. The U.S Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health & Human Services (HHS) released a new federal guide to strengthen and expand child care facilities in rural communities. The USDA-RD HHS-ACF Joint Facilities Resource Guide (pdf) includes best practices, innovative approaches, success stories and a list of federal resources available.  The Administration of Children and Families (ACF) is the HHS agency administering federal programs for child care; Rural Development (RD) at the USDA focuses on improving the economy and quality of life in rural America. 

Open Enrollment for Healthcare.gov Extended. Usually, the annual period for buying or changing health insurance plans for the next calendar year begins in November and runs until December 15. Starting this year, the federal government is extending the open enrollment period to January 15 for states that use Healthcare.gov, the federal website for health insurance. State Marketplaces not using the federal eligibility and enrollment platform (Healthcare.gov) can decide their own end date, provided that it is no earlier than December 15. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services made this and other changes to the Health Insurance Marketplace in the final rule for Benefits and Payment Parameters (pdf), further detailed in the Policy Updates section below. It is estimated that 65 percent of uninsured rural adults could have access to a health plan with a $0 premium on Healthcare.gov. 

HRSA Releases New Projections for the Health Workforce. According to data collected by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA), the supply of primary care physicians in the U.S. will see a shortage by the year 2030; a surplus of nurse practitioners and physician assistants is projected for the same time span. The forecast shows the largest shortages in Nevada, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Arizona. The NCHWA is part of the Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW) at the Health Resources and Services Administration. Last week, BHW announced funding for a new federal program to increase the number of physician assistants in rural areas. Accredited training programs that can demonstrate a high rate of rural placement for graduates may apply for the HRSA Physician Assistant Rural Training Program through December 9. 

CDC: Overdose Deaths Up by a Third. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the latest data on reported deaths due to overdose within the 50 states and the District of Columbia. While final counts are not yet complete, 90,133 deaths occurred between February 2020 and February 2021, an increase of more than 30 percent over the previous year.

ONC: Challenges to Interoperability. The ability to exchange electronic health data between facilities, known as interoperability, is essential to the long-term goals of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). This report examines the challenges for acute care hospitals – including rural hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals – exchanging electronic health information with public health agencies. The report uses data collected in 2019 and identifies ongoing barriers that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

RAND Weighs in on Vaccine Hesitancy. The RAND Corporation is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that researches and analyzes public policy. Their recommendations promote the World Health Organization’s “three Cs” model: 1) boosting confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, 2) combating complacency about the pandemic, and 3) increasing the convenience of getting vaccinated. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited data showing lower COVID-19 vaccination coverage in rural areas.

Household Food Security in the U.S. Last Year. The Economic Research Service (ERS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on access to adequate food for households in the U.S.  The survey data collected in December 2020 showed an estimated 89.5 percent of households had food access throughout the year, a number not significantly different from the same survey taken at the end of 2019. The prevalence of very low food security for rural areas, 4.5 percent, was slightly higher than the national average of 3.9 percent.