Ways and Means Committee Launches Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force

WASHINGTON, DC – On July 16, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee announced the creation of the “Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force.” A bipartisan group of four co-chairs will lead the new effort: Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL). The task force will convene members and experts to discuss the challenges of delivering health care in rural and underserved areas, and explore holistic bipartisan policy options that could improve outcomes and care in these communities. The group plans to convene its first meeting on Thursday, July 25.

As a doctor representing both rural and underserved areas in Congress, I know that rural patients are lacking access to medical providers. I am eager to work together to find bipartisan solutions that improve the access, quality, and cost of health care in our rural areas,” said Rep. Wenstrup, D.P.M. 

There is no question that our country is facing a serious crisis in ensuring that rural Americans have the same access to quality care and medical services as their urban and suburban counterparts, with over 90 rural hospitals closing their doors in the past three years, including two in my District in the last year alone. That is why, now more than ever, it is critical we develop sustainable solutions to support those living in America’s breadbasket and energy basin so that we, as a nation, can continue to maintain a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food and energy,” said Rep. Arrington.

I am proud to co-chair this important, bipartisan task force with three other Members of the Ways and Means Committee to examine effective policies and programs to remove barriers to receiving quality health care for citizens in all areas of our country,” said Rep. Davis.

In the wealthiest nation in the world, it shouldn’t matter where you live or how much money you make – every American should have universal access to quality, affordable health care. I am honored to be a part of the House Ways and Means Committee’s new bipartisan Rural and Underserved Health Task Force. The health access and quality issues that plague rural and underserved communities will not solve themselves over night. I look forward to working with the task force and Chairman Neal to tackle these issues and advance meaningful and transformative policies that improve medical access and create health equity in rural and underserved communities like those I represent,” said Rep. Sewell.

CMS Releases MACRA Data

The number of clinicians who participated in MACRA’s Advanced Alternative Payment Model track increased from 2017 to 2018, while the number of clinicians who participated in MACRA’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System decreased, according to preliminary data CMS released last week. CMS Administrator Seema Verma also noted that more clinicians are expected to receive a positive payment adjustment in 2020 based on their performance under the programs in 2018. (Source: Modern Healthcare‘s “Transformation Hub,” 7/12)

New Family Planning Rule Takes Effect

The Trump administration during the week of July 15, 2019, announced that it will immediately start enforcing a final rule that bars health care providers and clinics that receive Title X family planning grants from providing or referring patients for abortion care. The announcement comes as an appeals court reconsiders whether to issue an emergency order to block the final rule while lawsuits challenging the regulation continue. (Source: The Hill, 7/15)

2019’s Most & Least Stressed Cities in America

Stress is inevitable. Everyone experiences some type and level of it. But it’s not always a bad thing. Certain kinds of stress can have positive effects on a person’s well-being, at least in the right doses. According to Psychology Today, “A little bit of stress, known as ‘acute stress,’ can be exciting—it keeps us active and alert.”

When stress reaches an unmanageable level, however, it turns “chronic.” That’s when we become vulnerable to its damaging effects such as health problems and loss of productivity. In the U.S., stress affects more than 100 million people. The leading causes? Money tops the list, followed by work, family and relationships. By one estimate, workplace-related stress alone costs society more than $300 billion per year.

To determine the cities where Americans cope best, WalletHub compared more than 180 cities across 39 key metrics. Our data set ranges from average weekly work hours to debt load to divorce and suicide rates. Access the report for findings, expert insight, and a full description of WalletHub’s methodology.

New Federal Rural Network Planning Grants Awarded

The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) is pleased to announce over $2.4M has been awarded to 25 rural community healthcare organizations in Fiscal Year 2019 for the new competitive funding cycle of the Rural Health Network Development Planning (Network Planning) Program. The Network Planning Program is a one-year grant program designed to promote the planning and development of integrated health care networks, specifically network participants who do not have a history of formal collaborative efforts in order to achieve efficiencies; expand access to, coordinate, and improve the quality of essential health care services; and strengthen the rural health care system as a whole.

New Data on HIV Diagnoses; Disproportionate in Rural Areas

New Data on HIV Diagnoses; Disproportionate in Rural Areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on HIV testing.  The CDC data show that less than 40% of people in the U.S. have ever been tested for HIV; in the seven states with rural areas that are particularly affected by HIV, just 26% of people recommended for annual HIV testing were tested in the past year.  The proposed HHS-wide initiative, “Ending the HIV Epidemic – A Plan for America,” is  multiyear initiative designed to end the HIV epidemic over 10 years by significantly increasing public health resources, technology, and expertise on the ground in the hardest-impacted areas. The plan, if funded, will focus first on the geographic areas with the greatest HIV burden, including the 50 local jurisdictions and seven states highlighted in the MMWR report, before expanding to reach all areas of the nation affected by HIV.

States Awarded for High-Performing Rural Hospitals

. On July 11, 2019, HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) recognized ten states as top performers in their work to improve the quality of care at rural hospitals.  The states – Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, Nebraska, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin – have engaged in the FORHP-funded Medicare Beneficiary Quality Improvement Project (MBQIP), a project across 45 states designed to help federally-designated Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) improve patient outcomes through quality reporting. Before this project, there was no federal program focused on helping these low volume hospitals prioritize quality reporting and improvement. MBQIP sets rural-specific measures for quality and provides technical assistance and resources to help CAHs improve.

Rural Community Ambulance Agency Transformation Self-Assessment and Resources Now Available!

A new emergency medical services (EMS) resource has been announced by the Technical Assistance and Services Center (TASC), a program of the National Rural Health Resource Center. This resource was supported by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and coordinated by TASC.

This resource helps ambulance agency leaders in rural America assess their agency’s readiness to transform to the level of care that is a people-centered and rewards positive patient outcomes through value-based payment. It provides assistance to rural ambulance agency leaders in succeeding with moving from volume to value in their agency’s culture and operations.

Rural Community Ambulance Agency Transformation consists of a self-assessment and associated resource collections in the areas of the Critical Access Hospital Blueprint for Performance Excellence, adapted specifically for rural ambulance agencies, from the Baldrige Excellence Framework for Health Care. Leaders are encouraged to complete the assessment periodically to monitor their progress and receive updated resources to guide their continued journey. The self-assessment and resource collections Include:

Geography Is Destiny…and Diversity

Axios reports that even some of the least diverse places in America are gaining racial and ethnic diversity, as America heads toward becoming majority non-white in 2045. The counties seeing the greatest relative increase in racial and ethnic diversity are among the least diverse places in the country – particularly in the Midwest. Axios constructed the map using census data and calculated a diversity index–the probability that two people chosen at random will be of a different race or ethnicity–for every U.S. county, going back to 2009. The counties in the map are shaded by the percent change in the index value from 2009 to 2017.  Explore the graphic