Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: December 9, 2021

Three More Weeks for RHCs to Spend COVID-19 Testing Funds. Participating Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) have until December 31 to spend RHC COVID-19 Testing Program funds.  RHCs will continue reporting program data through January 2022. Please note that the RHC COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program and program reporting will continue until January 2023.  HRSA funded the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC) to provide technical assistance to RHCs on these two programs. Contact RHCCOVID-19Testing@hrsa.gov for more information.

Medicare Telehealth Visits Skyrocketed in 2020. In a new research report from HHS, analysts examined changes in Medicare telehealth usage in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and found a 63-fold increase in the number of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiary telehealth visits in 2020, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to nearly 52.7 million in 2020. With the public health emergency declaration, Medicare expanded the type of telehealth services allowed and permitted both rural and urban providers to deliver telehealth services. The emergency actions also allowed for services to be delivered wherever a Medicare beneficiary was located, including in their home or temporary health sites. While HHS’s analysis found lower rates of overall telehealth use among rural beneficiaries, the use of telecommunications services (i.e., virtual check-ins and e-visits) increased most for rural beneficiaries – from 1 percent of telehealth visits in 2019 to 12 percent in 2020. The report cites limitations in broadband access and challenges with internet availability and affordability as likely barriers in rural areas. For some rural providers, namely Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers, telehealth visits increased substantially – a nearly 100-fold increase from a total of 9,000 telehealth visits in 2019 to more than 830,000 telehealth visits in 2020.

CDC Seeking Public Input on Work-Related Stress for Health Workers – Comment Deadline Extended to January 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks information on best 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. 

Ongoing: HRSA Payment Program for RHC Buprenorphine-Trained Providers. In June 2021, 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.