Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

CMS Takes Further Steps to Ensure Medicare Beneficiaries Have Wide Access to COVID-19 Antibody Treatment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy, casirivimab and imdevimab, administered together, for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients with positive COVID-19 test results who are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization. Casirivimab and imdevimab, administered together, may only be administered in settings in which health care providers have immediate access to medications to treat a severe infusion reaction, such as anaphylaxis, and the ability to activate the Emergency Medical System (EMS), as necessary. Review the Fact Sheet for Health Care Providers EUA of Casirivimab and Imdevimab regarding the limitations of authorized use when administered together.

During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), Medicare will cover and pay for these infusions the same way it covers and pays for COVID-19 vaccines (when furnished consistent with the EUA).

CMS identified specific code(s) for the monoclonal antibody product and specific administration code(s) for Medicare payment: Regeneron’s Antibody Casirivimab and Imdevimab (REGN-COV2) , EUA effective November 21, 2020.


Long descriptor: Injection, casirivimab and imdevimab, 2400 mg

Short descriptor: casirivimab and imdevimab


Long Descriptor: intravenous infusion, casirivimab and imdevimab includes infusion and post administration monitoring

Short Descriptor: casirivi and imdevi infusion

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USDA Publishes Proposed Rule Maintaining School Meal Flexibilities

In line with USDA’s unwavering promise to serve America’s children well through school meal programs, the department today announced it will publish a proposed rule maintaining flexibility for schools to serve tasty meals their kids will be eager to eat. These proposed changes respond directly to the needs of nutrition professionals who are the experts on-the-ground, hearing from our children every day.

The proposed rule would maintain flexibility in USDA child nutrition program meal requirements related to milk, grains, and sodium, by:

  • Allowing flavored, low-fat milk in the Child Nutrition Programs;
  • Allowing half of the weekly grains offered through the school meal programs to be whole grain-rich; and
  • Providing schools more time for gradual sodium reduction by retaining Sodium Target 1 through the end of SY 2023-2024, continuing to Target 2 in SY 2024-2025, and eliminating the Final Target.

Yesterday, USDA issued a separate rule as an administrative step to ensure the department’s procedural compliance with a court ruling regarding its 2018 final rule on child nutrition program flexibilities. Today’s rule proposes to restore the flexibilities included in the 2018 final rule. Despite this procedural formality, schools do not have to change their meals, thanks to the  meal pattern flexibilities USDA has already provided in all child nutrition programs through June 30, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.

The proposed rule announced today will publish in the Federal Register on Nov. 25th, followed by a 30-day public comment period. USDA is committed to listening to and collaborating with customers, partners, and stakeholders to make these reforms as effective as possible, and encourages all those who are interested in school meals to share their comments and recommendations for improvement through

For information on food insecurity in Pennsylvania throughout the pandemic, visit

CARES Act-Funded Dairy Program Provides $7.6 Million in Direct Relief to 1,550 Pennsylvania Dairy Farmers

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced that the CARES Act-funded Dairy Indemnity Program has distributed $7.6 million in direct relief payments to 1,550 dairy farmers in the commonwealth. Any dairy farmer who experienced losses due to discarded or displaced milk during the COVID-19 pandemic was eligible to apply.

“Early in the pandemic in Pennsylvania, many of our dairy farmers were forced to dump milk and faced extreme uncertainty due to rapidly changing markets,” said Redding. “In this season of thanks, we are grateful that the legislature saw and met the needs of Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers with this program. These dollars don’t stop at the farm gate. They come back in your communities through grocery stores, schools, food banks, and more.”

Senators Judy Schwank and Elder Vogel, chairs of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, championed this CARES-Act funding for Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers and joined today’s announcement.

“The dairy indemnity program, funded by the CARES Act, was a great program to help 1,550 of our farmers weather COVID-19,” Schwank said. “But there are nearly 7,000 dairy farms in the Commonwealth. We have to recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to strengthen the industry.”

“During this difficult time, there was an even greater appreciation for the role dairy farmers plays in our economy and to the families of Pennsylvania,” said Vogel. “It is the Commonwealth’s most essential industry and providing the necessary state funding at this time is more critical than ever.”

To qualify for direct relief payments, farmer’s losses must have occurred between March 6, 2020 and September 30, 2020. Farmers were eligible for an immediate $1,500 in direct relief upon applying, followed by additional relief dollars with the remaining funds in the program.

Pennsylvania is home to nearly 7,000 dairy farms with an economic impact of $12 billion and more than 52,000 jobs. The commonwealth’s more than 500,000 cows produce more than 10.2 billion pounds of milk annually, ranking Pennsylvania seventh in the nation for total milk production.

Reminder: December 11 Deadline for 2021 Dairy Safety-Net Enrollment

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reminds dairy producers that the deadline to enroll in Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) for calendar year 2021 is Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) opened DMC signup in October to help producers manage economic risk brought on by milk price and feed cost disparities.

For DMC enrollment, producers must certify with FSA that the operation is commercially marketing milk, sign all required forms, and pay the $100 administrative fee unless the dairy operation qualifies for a limited resource, beginning, socially disadvantaged, or military veteran farmers and ranchers waiver.

Producers interested in DMC have the option to select a $4.00 catastrophic level of coverage with no premium fee or they can choose to buy-up coverage where the premium is based on margin triggers between $4.50 and $9.50 on 5 to 95 percent of established production history.

To determine the appropriate level of DMC coverage for a specific dairy operation, producers can utilize the recently updated online dairy decision tool. The decision tool is designed to demonstrate the historical performance of DMC and assist producers with calculating total premium costs and administrative fees associated with participation in DMC. An informational video is available, too.

For more information, visit DMC webpage, or contact your local USDA Service Center. To locate your local FSA office, visit


Pennsylvania Secures $16 Million Pennsylvania Farm Bill, Highlights 2019 Programs that Aided PA Farmers through Pandemic

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding applauded the state legislature for once again funding Governor Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Farm Bill in the 2020-21 Pennsylvania Budget. The first-ever Pennsylvania Farm Bill was signed into law in July 2019 and was transformative for the commonwealth’s leading industry.

“We began this journey with the Pennsylvania Farm Bill two years ago, when Governor Wolf laid out his vision to strengthen Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and secure a prosperous future,” said Redding. “And while no one could predict the toils of 2020, the governor’s 2019 multi-million dollar investment to support the industry that sustains life for us all put infrastructure in place that made 2020 a little less painful for some, and put others in a position to pivot and meet radically altered demand.

“That foresight into what this industry and our commonwealth’s food supply chain needed was spot on, and we look forward to using this next round of funding to strengthen the weak links found as we maneuvered a pandemic,” added Redding.

In 2020, the Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence, created and funded through the Pennsylvania Farm Bill, provided $280,000 in reimbursement to Pennsylvania’s animal ag industry for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect the workforce. The center also provided guidance to the industry on strengthening biosecurity plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

As communities across the commonwealth faced immense challenges with food insecurity as a result of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, urban communities that took advantage of the PA Farm Bill’s Urban Agriculture Grant program had new infrastructure in place to combat food insecurity by growing their own food and improving access to food for their neighborhoods. The 2019 program funded 28 projects with $500,000.

Pennsylvania’s dairy industry was most notably affected by the pandemic, as rapidly changing markets caused farmers to dump fresh, nutritious milk down the drain. However, some dairy farmers had already diversified their markets and found new opportunities through the PA Farm Bill’s $5 million Dairy Investment Program. The program offered dairy farmers an opportunity to sustain and grow their business through on-farm innovation, organic transition, and diversification through value-added products such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. The 2019 program funded 46 projects.

A full review of accomplishments from the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill can be found in The PA Farm Bill in Review, an article on the department’s blog.

 The $16 million 2020 Pennsylvania Farm Bill includes:

Resources for Business Development & Succession Planning

  • PA Agricultural Business Development Center, funded at $2 million, to serve as a resource to create business, transition, or succession plans.
  • Realty Transfer Tax Exemption for any transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.

 Creating More Processing Capabilities

  • Center for Poultry & Livestock Excellence, funded at $1 million, to support the animal ag industry with biosecurity planning and disease prevention, processing capacity, and food safety and quality assurance.
  • Incentivizing Access to Meat Processing Inspections, funded at $500,000, to encourage access to new and expanded markets for small or new producers.

 Removing Regulatory Burdens

  • Resource Enhancement and Protection Tax Credits, expanded by $3 million, to increase the lifetime cap and increase availability.
  • Conservation Excellence Grant Program, funded at $2 million, to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement best management practices.
  • Agriculture Linked Investment Program, funded at $500,000, to re-establish this low interest loan program for the implementation of best management practices.

 Strengthening the Ag Workforce

  • Agriculture and Youth Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to reestablish this program to fund agricultural and youth organizations to help increase knowledge and awareness of agriculture in the commonwealth.
  • The PA Farm to School Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to improve childhood nutrition while increasing exposure to agriculture.

 Protecting Agricultural Infrastructure

  • PA Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, funded at $3 million, to allow for quick response to agricultural disasters, such as Spotted Lanternfly or Avian Influenza; or providing an immediate response to a foodborne illness.

 Increasing Market Opportunities

  • PA Preferred Organic, funded at $1.6 million, to make Pennsylvania the nation’s leading organic state by further enhancing the growth of the organic industry.
  • PA Preferred Program, funded at an additional $1 million, to support the program and to bolster enrollment in Homegrown by Heroes.
  • State-level Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, funded at $500,000, to invest in and encourage farming of high-priority horticultural crops like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.
  • Urban Agriculture, funded at $500,000, to improve agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support development efforts.

“As we close what will be known in history books as one of the most challenging years for Pennsylvania agriculture, we look forward to cultivating a brighter tomorrow through this next round of PA Farm Bill funding,” said Redding. “We’ll work to make this industry whole again, using our experiences from 2020 to strengthen our programs for the industry we so clearly rely on.”

For more about the Pennsylvania Farm Bill visit The department is actively working to roll out grant programs for the 2020 funding and will make announcements as programs are available for applications.

CMS Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Enhance Hospital Capacity Amid COVID-19 Surge

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined unprecedented steps to increase the capacity of the American health care system to provide care to patients outside a traditional hospital setting amid a rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hospitalizations across the country.

In March 2020, CMS announced the Hospitals Without Walls program, which provides broad regulatory flexibility that allowed hospitals to provide services in locations beyond their existing walls. Today, CMS is expanding on this effort by executing an innovative Acute Hospital Care At Home program, providing eligible hospitals with unprecedented regulatory flexibilities to treat eligible patients in their homes. CMS believes that treatment for more than 60 different acute conditions, such as asthma, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) care, can be treated appropriately and safely in home settings with proper monitoring and treatment protocols.

As part of Hospital Without Walls, CMS also previously announced regulatory flexibility that allowed Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) – facilities that normally provide same-day surgical care – the ability to be temporarily certified as hospitals and provide inpatient care for longer periods than normally allowed. Today, CMS is announcing an update to that regulatory flexibility, clarifying that participating ASCs need only provide 24-hour nursing services when there is actually one or more patients receiving care onsite.

A press release is attached and available here.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the Acute Hospital Care At Home program are attached and available here.

FAQs on the ASC flexibilities announced today are attached and available here.

NIOSH Releases New COVID-19 Information, Resources

As part of NIOSH’s efforts to keep our stakeholders up to date on the CDC and NIOSH COVID-19 response, here is a summary of new information available.

New school resources are also available:

The Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in Schools toolkit is now available to aid school administrators as they consider how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, other school staff, families, and communities and prepare for educating students.

The school health personnel webpage provides information and resources to help school nurses and other healthcare personnel perform these new roles and responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources for self-care are also included.

CMS Releases Proposed 2022 Letter to Issuers in the Federally-facilitated Exchanges

On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, CMS posted the draft 2022 Letter to Issuers in the Federally-facilitated Exchanges to the Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) website on The letter provides updates on 2022 plan year operational and technical guidance for those seeking to offer qualified health plans (QHPs), including stand-alone dental plans, on the Federally-facilitated Exchanges or the Federally-facilitated Small Business Health Options Programs.

You can view the letter at:  2022 Draft Letter Issuers

Comments are due no later than December 23, 2020

Trump Administration Finalizes Permanent Expansion of Medicare Telehealth Services and Improved Payment for Time Doctors Spend with Patients  

On December 1, CMS released the annual Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule, prioritizing CMS’ investment in primary care and chronic disease management by increasing payments to physicians and other practitioners for the additional time they spend with patients, especially those with chronic conditions. The rule allows non-physician practitioners to provide the care they were trained and licensed to give, cutting red tape so health care professionals can practice at the top of their license and spend more time with patients instead of on unnecessary paperwork. This final rule takes steps to further implement President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors including prioritizing the expansion of proven alternatives like telehealth.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, actions by the Trump Administration have unleashed an explosion in telehealth innovation, and we’re now moving to make many of these changes permanent,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Medicare beneficiaries will now be able to receive dozens of new services via telehealth, and we’ll keep exploring ways to deliver Americans access to health care in the setting that they and their doctor decide makes sense for them.”

“Telehealth has long been a priority for the Trump Administration, which is why we started paying for short virtual visits in rural areas long before the pandemic struck,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “But the pandemic accentuated just how transformative it could be, and several months in, it’s clear that the health care system has adapted seamlessly to a historic telehealth expansion that inaugurates a new era in health care delivery.”

Finalizing Telehealth Expansion and Improving Rural Health

Before the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), only 15,000 Fee-for-Service beneficiaries each week received a Medicare telemedicine service. Since the beginning of the PHE, CMS has added 144 telehealth services, such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services, that are covered by Medicare through the end of the PHE. These services were added to allow for safe access to important health care services during the PHE. As a result, preliminary data show that between mid-March and mid-October 2020, over 24.5 million out of 63 million beneficiaries and enrollees have received a Medicare telemedicine service during the PHE.

This final rule delivers on the President’s recent Executive Order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access by adding more than 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list that will continue to be covered beyond the end of the PHE, and we will continue to gather more data and evaluate whether more services should be added in the future. These additions allow beneficiaries in rural areas who are in a medical facility (like a nursing home) to continue to have access to telehealth services such as certain types of emergency department visits, therapy services, and critical care services. Medicare does not have the statutory authority to pay for telehealth to beneficiaries outside of rural areas or, with certain exceptions, allow beneficiaries to receive telehealth in their home. However, this is an important step, and as a result, Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas will have more convenient access to health care.

Additionally, CMS is announcing a commissioned study of its telehealth flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 PHE. The study will explore new opportunities for services where telehealth and virtual care supervision, and remote monitoring can be used to more efficiently bring care to patients and to enhance program integrity, whether they are being treated in the hospital or at home.

Payment for Office/Outpatient Evaluation and Management (E/M) and Comparable Visits

Last year, CMS finalized a historic increase in payment rates for office/outpatient face-to-face E/M visits that goes into effect in 2021. The Medicare population is increasing, with over 10,000 beneficiaries joining the program every day. Along with this growth in enrollment is increasing complexity of beneficiary health care needs, with more than two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries having two or more chronic conditions. Increasing the payment rate of E/M office visits recognizes this demand and ensures clinicians are paid appropriately for the time they spend on coordinating care for patients, especially those with chronic conditions. These payment increases, informed by recommendations from the American Medical Association (AMA), support clinicians who provide crucial care for patients with dementia or manage transitions between the hospital, nursing facilities, and home.

Under this final rule, CMS continues to prioritize this investment in primary care and chronic disease management by similarly increasing the value of many services that are similar to E/M office visits, such as maternity care bundles, emergency department visits, end-stage renal disease capitated payment bundles, and physical and occupational therapy evaluation services. These adjustments ensure CMS is appropriately recognizing the kind of care where clinicians need to spend more face-to-face time with patients.

“This finalized policy marks the most significant updates to E/M codes in 30 years, reducing burden on doctors imposed by the coding system and rewarding time spent evaluating and managing their patients’ care,” Administrator Verma added. “In the past, the system has rewarded interventions and procedures over time spent with patients – time taken preventing disease and managing chronic illnesses.”

In addition to the increase in payment for E/M office visits, simplified coding and documentation changes for Medicare billing for these visits will go into effect beginning January 1, 2021. The changes modernize documentation and coding guidelines developed in the 1990s, and come after extensive stakeholder collaboration with the AMA and others. These changes will significantly reduce the burden of documentation for all clinicians, giving them greater discretion to choose the visit level based on either guidelines for medical decision-making (the process by which a clinician formulates a course of treatment based on a patient’s information, i.e., through performing a physical exam, reviewing history, conducting tests, etc.) or time dedicated with patients. These changes are expected to save clinicians 2.3 million hours per year in administrative burden so that clinicians can spend more time with their patients.

Professional Scope of Practice and Supervision

As part of the Patients Over Paperwork Initiative, the Trump Administration is cutting red tape so that health care professionals can practice at the top of their license and spend more time with patients instead of on unnecessary paperwork. The PFS final rule makes permanent several workforce flexibilities provided during the COVID-19 PHE that allow non-physician practitioners to provide the care they were trained and licensed to give, without imposing additional restrictions by the Medicare program.

Specifically, CMS is finalizing the following changes:

  • Certain non-physician practitioners, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, can supervise the performance of diagnostic tests within their scope of practice and state law, as they maintain required statutory relationships with supervising or collaborating physicians.
  • Physical and occupational therapists will be able to delegate “maintenance therapy” – the ongoing care after a therapy program is established – to a therapy assistant.
  • Physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other clinicians who directly bill Medicare can review and verify, rather than re-document, information already entered by other members of the clinical team into a patient’s medical record. As a result, practitioners have the flexibility to delegate certain types of care, reduce duplicative documentation, and supervise certain services they could not before, increasing access to care for Medicare beneficiaries.

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