Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: February 3, 2022

January 2022 Roundup. In addition to an historic level of funding for its rural programs in 2021, the agency’s focus on health equity and meeting the needs of the underserved during the pandemic brought more than $8 billion in grants and other resources to communities across the country and its territories last year. Among several actions taken in January 2022, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) welcomed new leadership, awarded funds to address burnout for the nation’s health care workforce, and continued to distribute Provider Relief Fund payments.

COVID-19 Vaccination Rates Lower in Rural America. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that on January 10, 2022, the overall vaccination rate in nonmetropolitan counties was lower than in metropolitan counties—48 percent in nonmetro areas versus 61 percent in metro areas. The Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture compiled the data from the CDC and state health departments and reports substantial regional variations. Nonmetro counties in the Northeast, the northern Midwest, and the West have vaccination rates that are above national nonmetro average; meanwhile, a large proportion of counties in the South and southern Midwest have vaccination rates below the national nonmetro average. 

February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The federal website HIV.gov has an event planning guide and social media kit for the annual observance meant to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment in Black communities. Most recent data show that Black American men and women make up the most-affected population for new HIV diagnoses. While most lived in a metropolitan area during the time of the study, about 6 percent of these new cases were in rural areas where access to care remains a challenge. HRSA’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) continues to focus efforts on key populations that are disproportionately affected, including those in rural areas identified by the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative. Last week, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors delivered its latest annual report on funding and services delivered by states under RWHAP, including data for viral suppression in rural areas (section 3).

HHS on Trends in Telehealth Use: Disparities in Utilization. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) has released new findings on Medicare telehealth use that includes rural verse urban comparisons. ASPE has also released a companion brief that examines state Medicaid telehealth coverage and policies before and after the pandemic.

Milbank Fund Assesses Primary Care Access. The report assesses the evidence for policy interventions in five dimensions of primary care access. For example, Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics provide appointments more quickly and tend to have a higher and growing percentage of racially and ethnically diverse patients than private physician offices.

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. A few weeks ago, 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.

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.