Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Protecting Rural Access to Care Act 

On January 25, 2021, Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act (H.R. 489), a bill intended to protect the benefits of rural hospitals already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. “The shuttering of one hospital, let alone three, in a rural area where residents travel long distances for health care and hospitals experience difficulty in retaining and attracting medical professionals, is unconscionable,” Delgado said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored what folks upstate already knew — we need more access to health care facilities, not less.” A key measure in the bill would reverse a change made in 2015 to how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) defines secondary roads, which can determine whether hospitals qualify for the Critical Access Hospital program. This new change to the definition would ensure many existing rural hospitals do not lose the benefits of being a Critical Access Hospital once they begin recertification.

The GAO Releases a Report on Rural Hospital Closures and Reduced Access to Services 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on the impact rural hospital closures have on their community. The study, which was conducted from January 2013 through February 2020, examined the effects of the 101 rural hospitals that closed during that time. Among other findings, the GAO discovered that over this time period, disparities in these rural communities were further exacerbated and the availability of physicians for patients declined significantly. Read the full study here.

President Biden Signs Executive Orders on Health Care 

On January 28, 2021, President Biden signed two executive orders related to health care. The White House stated that these new executive orders, “Will re-open enrollment to the Health Insurance Marketplace, take additional steps to strengthen Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and protect women’s health.” Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for individuals and families for Marketplace coverage in response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. In a recent alert about the SEP, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relayed that the Marketplaces would be open from February 15, 2021 through May 15, 2021. President Biden’s executive order to protect women’s health included a Presidential Memorandum to protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive health care, among other, more controversial policies.

CMS Updates SUD Data Book

On Jan. 19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published an update to its Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Data Book for Congress. The data book uses 2018 Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data. Notable findings include:

  • Of the 55.9 million Medicaid beneficiaries with full or comprehensive benefits ages 12 and older, 4.6 million (8 percent) were treated for a SUD in 2018.
  • 57 percent of beneficiaries treated for a SUD were diagnosed with tobacco use disorder and 30 percent had an opioid use disorder.
  • Nearly half of beneficiaries (46 percent) treated for a SUD received emergency services (the most common SUD treatment service).
  • 26 percent received at least one service in an outpatient or home- or community-based setting within 30 days of discharge.

USPSTF Statement on Systemic Racism in Preventive Care

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has published an editorial, “The USPSTF Values Statement and Actions to Address Systemic Racism Through Clinical Preventive Services,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Authored by members of the Task Force, this editorial affirms that, while clinical preventive services improve health and well-being, systemic racism in the healthcare system prevents many Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latino people from fully benefitting from these services. The editorial also advances a roadmap designed to address systemic racism and help eliminate health inequities.

The FQHC Story on Oral Health Value-Based Care

With Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) serving as a point of care for more than 28 million patients, many of whom are uninsured, living in poverty and located in rural areas, these social determinants of health create chronic conditions, including a disproportionate burden of oral disease. FQHCs have been at the forefront of providing comprehensive, person-centered health care that has been facilitated by better access to technology infrastructure and coordinated primary care delivery. As such, a series of analyses were performed by the DentaQuest Partnership using three data sources to explore health outcomes and service provision in an FQHC population compared to non-FQHC populations. Click here to read more.

Medicaid Expansion Saved Hospitals an Average of $6.4 Million

Hospitals in Medicaid expansion states saved an average of $6.4 million on uncompensated care, according to a study published in Health Affairs. Uncompensated care made up six percent of total expenses for hospitals in non-expansion states in 2017, double the amount for those located in states that had expanded the program. “As COVID-19 has brought hospitals to a time of great need, findings from this study provide important information on what hospitals in states that have yet to expand Medicaid could gain through expansion and what is at risk should any reversal of Medicaid expansions occur”. Read more.

Vaccine Shortage Won’t Last Forever

Pfizer and Moderna currently have the market on COVID-19 vaccination, but if all goes well, that won’t be true much longer. COVID-19 has existed for barely more than a year, but 64 vaccines are in clinical development and another 173 in preclinical development worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Dozens of hopefuls are in clinical trials in the U.S. The two inching closest to the finish line here—by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson—although behind original schedules, could win emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as soon as this spring. Unfortunately, this week Merck announced it has halted development of two potential vaccines for the coronavirus, citing data that showed a lack of immune response.