Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

ECHO Diabetes in the Time of COVID-19

The ECHO Model for health professions training uses interactive video technology to connect remote providers with specialists at centers of excellence in real-time collaborative sessions.  The Stanford Center for Continuing Medical Education is providing credits for this series of free webinars using the ECHO model to support primary care providers and their patients with diabetes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.  Read more here.

Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D 2021 Final Rule 

Last week, CMS issued the first final rule for MA and Part D plan changes for 2021.  The agency will issue a second final rule later this year.  This first rule focuses on immediate regulatory actions for the contract year 2021 bid deadline in June, codifying several existing policies, and implementing other technical changes.   The changes include reducing the required percentage of beneficiaries that must reside within the maximum time and distance standards for plans operating in rural counties and providing MA plans with a credit towards this percentage of beneficiaries when plans contract with specified specialty and primary care telehealth providers.

New Medicare Waivers to Address COVID-19

On May 19, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) added two new emergency declaration waivers providing the health care community with flexibilities needed to care for patients during the COVID-19 public health emergency.  First, CMS is waiving certain physical environment requirements under the Medicare conditions of participation for surge capacity and patient quarantine at hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) (page 4).  Second, CMS is modifying the data collection and reporting periods for rural and urban organizations selected to participate in the Ground Ambulance Data Collection System (page 29).

Executive Order to Provide Regulatory Relief

On May 22, the President issued an executive order allowing Federal agencies to address the economic emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities.  Agencies are also encouraged to promote economic recovery through non-regulatory actions. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has posted information online about recent waivers the agency has implemented, including those applicable to rural facilities like Critical Access Hospitals, Rural Health Clinics, and Federally Qualified Health Centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evidence Shows Masks Are Working

CNN reports that as the number of deaths surpasses the grim milestone of 100,000 and Americans squabble over whether it’s necessary or helpful to keep taking protective measures like wearing a face covering, a leading researcher says the data is clear that wearing masks works. Dr. Chris Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME, at the University of Washington, says that wearing masks offers probably 50 percent protection against transmission. Unfortunately, what should be influenced by science and shared strategy is instead being influenced by politics resulting in a divided approach. Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees that “simple” things like wearing masks and washing hands are crucial and that close gatherings of people without masks are “very troubling. … That’s really tempting fate and asking for trouble.”

Pennsylvania Department of Health Warns of Scam Targeting WIC Recipients

The Pennsylvania Department of Health warned Pennsylvania’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) participants of potential scams and cautioned them not to disclose their personal information without verifying the identity of the caller.

Although WIC clinics do perform eligibility determinations, they will never call participants to request their bank account information to deposit funds directly into their accounts.

If a WIC participant is unsure if a request for information is legitimate, they should contact their local WIC office. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WIC services will be available over the phone or by virtual appointments until counties reopen into the green phase. Residents can find the address, hours of operation, and contact information for their local WIC clinic here.

Pennsylvanians should report scams to their local law enforcement or file a consumer complaint to the Office of the Attorney General through an online form, by calling 800-441-2555, or by email at

If a COVID-19 Vaccine Was Available, 50% Would Say “Yes”

A new poll finds that 49 percent of respondents would get a coronavirus vaccine if one was available. The poll, conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also found that 20 percent of respondents would not, and 31 percent were not yet sure. Other findings:

  • Among those who said they would get a vaccine, about 70 percent said life won’t return to normal without a vaccine.
  • About two-thirds of respondents aged 60 and older said they would take the vaccine, compared to 40 percent of those younger than 60.
  • Although COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority communities, only 25 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Hispanics said they would get the vaccine, compared to 56 percent of white respondents.