Federal Office of Rural Health Policy Announcements

Date: February 10, 2022

HHS Effort to Boost Vaccine Confidence Sends $66.5 Million into Communities. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced more American Rescue Plan funding for community-based outreach to build COVID-19 vaccine confidence. This latest push in the effort that began last summer will support eight grantees with networks that reach rural areas and communities with underserved minority populations. The funding will be used to support trusted local partners who know and understand their neighbors and are best positioned to deliver needed information. 

Medicare to Cover Free, Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests. Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that people in either Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage will be able to get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost starting in early spring. Under the new initiative, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month for free. Tests will be available through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities. This policy will apply to COVID-19 over-the-counter tests approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For more information, CMS has posted a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

National Action Plan and Task Force on Human Trafficking. Twenty federal agencies will coordinate a government-wide effort to combat human trafficking, an issue that crops up in rural areas where secluded locations make it difficult for law enforcement to detect. Sometimes called a form of “modern day slavery,” human trafficking is estimated to generate illegal profits in the billions. The human toll is greatest on individuals with vulnerabilities such as recent migration, single motherhood, recent contact with the child welfare system, a substance dependency, or a mental health condition. A recent article from The Rural Monitor explains how rural providers are uniquely positioned to provide care for victims.

Spread the Word About Vaccine Boosters. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) 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, 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.