Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 2, 2021

Spread the Word About Vaccine BoostersHHS released new resources – posters, flyers, videos, and talking points – to help promote the extra protection from COVID-19 boosters. All vaccinated adults aged 18+ are eligible for a booster. Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

National Advisory Committee Weighs in on Rural Emergency Hospitals. In December 2020, Congress created a new type of Medicare provider called the Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) as a response to loss of emergency services in rural areas due to hospital closures. The new designation will allow a Critical Access Hospital or small rural hospital with no more than 50 beds to convert to an REH with 24-hour emergency services, but no inpatient care. This report from the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services summarizes the statutory requirements for REHs, examines implications for various federal entities likely to be involved in their administration, and makes 16 recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to ensure the success of the REH model.

New Research: Outcomes from ED Visits at Rural Hospitals. In an open access article on JAMA Network Open, researchers examine 30-day outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries after treatment of life-threatening conditions in emergency departments (EDs) at both urban and rural hospitals. The study was prompted by a 50 percent increase in visits to rural EDs in the last 10 years, while rural hospitals continue to close.  The researchers conclude that their findings underscore the importance of rural and critical access EDs for treatment of life-threatening conditions among Medicare recipients. 

CDC Tracking Rural Vaccination Rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently added metro/non-metro vaccination data to its COVID Data Tracker website. Users can select total population vaccinated or select different age groups (≥ 12, ≥ 18, ≥ 65) as well as a line graph of vaccination rates, by the six urban-rural classifications used by the National Center for Health Statistics. The site also measures rates of vaccination by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index, which uses U.S. Census data on categories like poverty, housing, and vehicle access. 

New AHRQ Chartbook on Rural Health Care. This week, the federal agency that researches what makes health care safer, more affordable, higher quality, and accessible to all released its compendium of data and trends for rural populations. The chartbook is part of the annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report (NHQDR) that assesses the performance of our health care system across these measures.

Analysis: Medicaid Models for Maternal Opioid Misuse in Four Rural States. This research brief from the University of Iowa examines the demonstration model for Maternal Opioid Misuse, created by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in 2018. The analysis hones in on the way state-level Medicaid policy was applied in rural areas, and compares the approach and outcomes in four mostly-rural states: Colorado, Indiana, Maine, and Missouri. 

Nominations Sought for Indigenous Health Equity Committee – deadline extended to January 7. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health is building an advisory committee for the Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity, a new initiative that began in September. The Tribal Advisory Committee will have 16 delegate positions, one from each of the 12 geographic areas served by the Indian Health Service and four national at-large member positions.

Surveying the Experiences of Transgender People. In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the largest survey examining the lives of transgender people. More than 27,000 respondents from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and overseas military bases answered questions about their experiences with social determinants of health such as education, employment, family life, health care, housing, and interactions with the criminal justice system. Information from the survey fills in some of the large gaps in research and provides critical tools for researchers, policymakers, and advocates seeking to eliminate disparities. Though it’s estimated that at least three million LGBT people live in rural America, there remains a need for data from rural areas. To that end, the National Center for Transgender Equality asks for volunteers living in rural areas to sign up for the 2022 US Transgender Survey.

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