Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: November 4, 2021

CDC Recommends Pediatric COVID Vaccine. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded their recommendations for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include about 28 million children aged 5-11 years. The CDC reports that, during a six-week period in late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold. November 5 at 2:00 pm ET, join HRSA for a Town Hall meeting to get the latest information on this announcement. 

New Funding Available for the Rural Health Network Development Planning Program applications due January 28. The Health Resources and Services Administration will be making approximately 20 awards of $100,000 each for a one-year period of performance to promote the development of integrated health care networks in order to (i) achieve efficiencies; (ii) expand access to, coordinate, and improve the quality of basic health care services; and (iii) strengthen the rural health care system as a whole. Eligible applicants are domestic public and private, nonprofit and for-profit entities that can deliver services in HRSA-designated rural area, particularly for populations that have historically been underserved and have poorer health outcomes. The applicant organization must represent a network that includes at least three or more health care provider organizations. HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy will hold an hour-long webinar for applicants on Wednesday November 17th  at 3:00 pm ET. (Meeting ID: 161 864 4747; Participant Code: 81822150) A recording will be made available for those who cannot attend

CDC Listening Sessions Provide Strategies for COVID Vaccine Outreach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sharing what their Vaccine Task Force has learned about reaching people with limited access to vaccines. Successful community-level actions were reported during jurisdictional listening sessions conducted earlier this year. These reported activities use existing systems – case managers, community organizations, pharmacies, residential facilities, etc. – to take action steps for scheduling appointments, arranging transportation, and sharing reliable information through trusted networks. These lessons learned may be particularly useful in rural areas where vaccination rates are lower.

CMS Expands Telehealth for Behavioral Health. This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated telehealth policies for 2022 to expand behavioral health services, including treatment of substance use disorders through Opioid Treatment Programs. The policy updates allow patients to receive these services in their homes. CMS is also allowing reimbursement for audio-only services for certain patients, beneficial to rural patients with limited access to high-speed broadband. In addition, for the first time outside of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Medicare will pay for mental health visits furnished by Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers through digital and audio telecommunications. For specifics on the policy updates, CMS has published a fact sheet on the Calendar Year 2022 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule.

New CMS Policy Promotes Growth in the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also announced updated policies to improve the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program (MDPP) Expanded Model, created to help prevent Medicare beneficiaries with prediabetes from developing type 2 diabetes. As part of this update, CMS is reducing barriers to participation in rural communities, where the rate of potentially avoidable death from diabetes is higher than in urban areas. This includes waiving the Medicare enrollment fee for all organizations that apply to enroll as an MDPP supplier on or after January 1, 2022, shortening the MDPP services period to one year instead of two years, and restructuring payments so MDPP suppliers receive larger payments for participants who reach milestones for attendance. For specifics on the policy updates, CMS has published a fact sheet on the MDPP Expanded Model updates in the Calendar Year 2022 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule.

Rural Hospital Mergers Shown to Reduce Services, but Improve Care Quality. Two studies funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provide mixed news on the impact of mergers. The article published in Health Affairs, linked above, found that merged rural hospitals were more likely to eliminate maternal/neonatal and surgical services to stay in business. A second study published in JAMA Network Open found greater reduction in inpatient deaths for several common conditions such as heart failure, acute stroke, and pneumonia at merged rural hospitals. Researchers conclude in this study that mergers result in lower death rates, however more research is needed to assess the impact of mergers on the health care of rural communities.  

Unintentional Injury Death Twice as High for Rural Children (pdf). Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among children aged 0-17 years and the overall rate for rural children is nearly twice as high as for children living in urban areas (12.4 per 100,000 versus 6.3). The data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that rates were highest for children under one year in both urban (29.3) and rural areas (48.8), and identifies suffocation as the leading cause for that age group. 

Partnership of CDFIs Document Their Rural Efforts. The Partners for Rural Transformation (PRT) is a coalition led by six Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) committed to transforming rural areas of persistent poverty in the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Native American communities, the deep south, the Rio Grande Valley, and farming regions in the rural West. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the PRT commissioned this report from the Urban Institute to capture their efforts to expand public and private funding and address community needs. 

HRSA Celebrates National Rural Health Day. The public is invited to join the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) online on Thursday, November 18, at 11:00 am ET. Speakers and panelists from several agencies will share what has been learned from the efforts at the federal level and from collaboration with state- and community-level partners. Health equity is a priority focus and Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) grantees will share best practices from their projects that consider social determinants of health to improve health outcomes.

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June of this year, 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 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.