Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: January 13, 2022

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 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. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded booster eligibility to include adolescents ages 12 to 17, recommending that they receive a booster shot five months after their initial vaccination. The CDC also released a new resource, based on input from rural health departments and organizations, with 12 strategies to increase vaccine uptake in rural communities (pdf).  Search by zip code to find nearby locations providing adult and pediatric vaccines and boosters for COVID-19 and the flu at vaccines.gov.

Coverage Available for At-Home COVID-19 Tests. Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight (8) free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month. There is no limit on the number of tests (including at-home tests) that are covered if ordered or administered by a health care provider following an individualized clinical assessment. This policy comes in addition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ effort to provide up to 50 million free, at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified rural health clinics for distribution at no cost to patients and community members.

Saturday, January 15 is the Last Day for HealthCare.gov Open Enrollment. As of Tuesday, January 11, nearly 14 million consumers had signed up for coverage through the Federal site, HealthCare.gov, and State-based Marketplaces. Those still looking to sign up before the Saturday deadline can find local help from certified assisters. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a series of reports on access to health care coverage for uninsured and underinsured populations, including rural Americans. This research details a higher degree of zero- and low-premium health plans available to eligible rural residents.

Request for Comment on Broadband Programs in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – Comment by February 4. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is responsible for distributing more than $48 billion in broadband funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed in November. The NTIA requests comment from stakeholders across the nation to inform their development of programs for these funds, which will be allocated to states for distribution. 

CDC: Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Adults. During 2015 – 2019, an estimated 10.6 million adults in the United States reported having had suicidal thoughts during the previous year. While these are national and state-level data, the report stresses that effective prevention requires more information at the population level. In 2020, the CDC reported that suicide rates in rural areas were higher than urban areas from 2000 through 2018.

Rural Healthy People 2030 Survey – Deadline February 14. The Southwest Rural Health Research Center at Texas A&M University wants to hear from individuals who live or work in rural communities for a 20-minute survey on the most important Healthy People 2030 objectives for rural health. The project is supported by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy through its Rural Health Research Centers program. 

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.