Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: October 28, 2021

New Federal Strategy for Overdose Prevention. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a new focus prioritizing four objectives: primary prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that the rate of rural overdose deaths from 1999 to 2019 rose from 4.0 to 19.6 per 100,000 people. In 2019, rates in rural counties were higher than in urban counties in California, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. 

Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Begins November 1. Plans and pricing are already available for preview and consumers may use the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace or one of 18 state-based websites. This year the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services took steps to increase the number of Marketplace-registered agents and assisters – especially in underserved communities – to help consumers review options and to  understand their benefits and rights. The boosted effort is the result of a series of research briefs on health insurance access for underserved populations, including racial/ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas. 

New Funding and Resources for State Medicaid Agencies. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched a new “one stop shop” for home and community-based services. State-level stakeholders can learn about innovative models for care delivered to Medicaid beneficiaries outside of an institution, such as in their own home. These services, which can be particularly challenging in rural areas, include personal hygiene, nutrition, home health, and transportation. Funding from the American Rescue Plan provides qualifying states with a temporary 10 percentage point increase for certain expenditures for home and community-based services.

HHS Announces New Plan for Health Workforce. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a new strategy for expanding supply, ensuring equitable distribution, and improving the quality of the nation’s health workforce. The plan is one of the requirements of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and will be implemented by the Health Resources and Services Administration and several other operating divisions of HHS.

CDC Seeking Public Input on Work-Related Stress for Health Workers – Comment by November 26. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks information on best practices and promising practices for the positive mental health and well-being of health workers. The feedback will be used to inform interventions under development by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The request includes feedback about first responders and emergency services personnel experiencing higher levels of stress during the pandemic.  

Case Study: Barriers to Hub and Spoke Model for OUD Treatment. Originating in Vermont, the Hub and Spoke model provides a point of care at each stage of recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD), from the intense beginning to long-term treatment. This case study examines what happened in Montana, designated as a Frontier and Remote state by the federal government. Earlier this year, the HRSA-supported Center on Rural Addiction at the University of Vermont conducted a baseline needs assessment (pdf) in that state of rural and non-rural practitioners during two separate one-month periods in 2020. Both rural and non-rural practitioners named stigma and patient time/transportation as top barriers to treatment. A majority of rural providers also named medication diversion as a top concern. 

Place-Based Patterns in Youth Suicide Rates. An analysis of public-use data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed rural-specific trends in suicide for Americans aged 10 to 24 over the last 20 years. The study from the American Communities Project and the Center on Rural Innovation found that rural communities have seen some of the highest rates in the age group. Two of the geography types studied, Hispanic Centers and the African American South, had lower rates than the national average. However, rates for Native American communities were far above all others, in some cases more than double other types. 

Reaching Farm Communities for Vaccine Confidence. The AgriSafe Network is a nonprofit organization that provides information and training on injury and disease related to agriculture. Their health professionals and educators created a social media toolkit that aims to provide clear messages about COVID-19 vaccination for agriculture, forestry, and fishing workers.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June of 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 (RHC) 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.