August 4, 2020
WASHINGTON D.C. ~ President Trump signed an Executive Order late on Monday aimed at improving rural health and telehealth access. At his news conference afterwards, President Trump specifically notated the number of “rural health clinics” that received funds as a result of the CARES Act. I was pleased to see the President explicitly recognize rural health clinics in his comments and firmly believe that this recognition is, in part, due to NARHC efforts to elevate the profile of the rural health clinic program.
After the announcement, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan hosted representatives from the National Rural Health Association, National Association of Community Health Centers, and myself, for a brief discussion of the Administration’s goals and plans. On this call, the Deputy Secretary indicated that the Administration would be unveiling more detailed plans in the weeks to come on these topics. It was made clear that while the Executive Order directs the various agencies submit plans within 30 days, the Administration has already been working for months on these policies.
The Executive Order has four main policy sections:
Sec. 2 – Launching an Innovative Payment Model to Enable Rural Healthcare Transformation
The Administration plans to release a new rural payment model in the next few weeks. Details are largely forthcoming, but Secretary Hargan did confirm that the model would not be only for hospitals.
Sec. 3 – Investments in Physical and Communications Infrastructure
This effort is designed to improve broadband in rural areas. It is unclear to me if this plan would be separate from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Health Care Program or an expansion of the FCC program.
Sec. 4 – Improving the Health of Rural Americans
A Rural Health Action Plan will be unveiled in the coming weeks but should represent a renewed effort to eliminate regulatory burdens and improve health outcomes in rural areas.
Sec. 5 – Expanding Flexibilities Beyond the Public Health Emergency
The Administration is preparing several regulatory actions that will make aspects of the telehealth Medicare benefit (that were temporarily expanded for the public health emergency) permanent. I expect that these policies will be proposed in the annual physician fee schedule rule which should be released very soon.
You can read the full Executive Order here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-improving-rural-health-telehealth-access/
Director of Government Affairs
National Association of Rural Health Clinics