Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Biden Extends Forbearance on Student Loans

On his first day in office, President Biden fulfilled his promise to extend forbearance on federal student loans. That means those with Federal student loans do not need to make payments until October 2021. Interest on these loans remains at zero percent during this time. This applies to:

  • All Direct Loans (including those in default)
  • All FFEL Program loans (including those in default)
  • All Federal Perkins Loans (including those in default)
  • Defaulted HEAL loans

President Biden has also indicated that he wants to reform and expand certain elements of federal loans, including parts of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but those actions will come later.

Walgreens and Uber Partner to Offer Free Rides to Vaccination Sites

Uber and Walgreens on Tuesday announced they will join forces to offer communities of color free rides to vaccination sites. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic people, and initial vaccination data already shows that people of color are being vaccinated at lower rates than white people. People of color also tend to have fewer pharmacies per capita and are also less likely to say that they have been vaccinated or know someone who has. Walgreens and Uber’s initiative will “make it easier to connect people with vaccine appointments, and [offer] free transportation to Walgreens vaccine clinics among socially vulnerable communities.” Both companies will work with the National Urban League to offer education programs to address vaccine hesitancy. People will be able to schedule rides via the Uber app once they have a vaccination appointment.

Women Fly to Record High and then Crash to 33-Year Low

Women in the U.S. hit a milestone in February 2020 when, for the first time in history, they held the majority of non-farm payroll jobs, outnumbering men in the workforce, Axios reports. One year later, women’s labor force participation is at a 33-year low. According to experts, helping mothers get back to work is vital to the health of the U.S. economy. There will be long tail effects that hurt working women and mothers long after the pandemic is over. Read more.

Waived and Suspended Licensing Regulations

Due to the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”), additional healthcare practitioners will be needed to treat ill Pennsylvanians. This need may extend beyond the capacity of the professionals currently licensed by Pennsylvania’s health-licensing boards. To increase the available number of practitioners, the Department of State requested a suspension from Gov. Wolf to several provisions that create barriers to temporary licensure. The following list details the suspensions granted by the governor and provides additional information for healthcare professionals on how to obtain temporary licenses.

  • Waiver Allows Some Retired Physicians and Nurses to Administer the COVID-19 Vaccine: The Department of State requested, and the governor approved, a temporary suspension of the renewal and reactivation provisions set forth in 63 P.S. §§ 213, 271.3, 422.10 and 422.25 and 49 Pa. Code §§ 16.15, 21.131, 21.156, , 25.271, to enable physicians and nurses whose Pennsylvania licenses lapsed, expired or were inactive within the last five years to administer COVID-19 vaccines without reactivating or renewing their licenses, provided they meet the specific qualification requirements … Read more
  • Waiver Enables Medical Students to Administer COVID-19 Vaccines: As new COVID-19 cases soar across the Commonwealth and hospitals are stretched to capacity, Pennsylvania has initiated an unprecedented effort to administer COVID-19 vaccinations at record speed. Medical students quickly offered to step in to administer these vaccinations at locations across the Commonwealth. Read more
  • New Waiver Allows Qualified Pennsylvania Vaccinators to Administer COVID-19 Vaccine to 16- and 17-Year-Olds: The overall purpose of this waiver/suspension is to expand the pool of COVID-19 vaccinators to help increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations. This waiver will help to align Pennsylvania’s response efforts with guidance and waivers issued by the federal government, as well as temporarily alter certain state regulations to make it possible for that alignment to occur. The Department requested, and Gov. Wolf approved, a temporary change in the age restriction set forth in 63 P.S. § 390-9.2 and 49 Pa. Code § 27.403 to persons who are “more than 16 years of age.” Read more
  • State Board of Dentistry Identifies Acceptable Alternative to Live Patient Clinical Exam for Dental Hygienist Candidates During COVID-19: The live-patient aspect of the dental hygiene clinical examination shall continue to be temporarily waived. For those candidates who wish to take an alternative exam, the board will now accept the ADEX Manikin Examination for dental hygienists administered by CDCA and CITA in 2021 in lieu of issuing a provisional license to candidates for licensure… Read more

Pennie Is Open for Business… Again

With a special enrollment period opening on federally facilitated marketplaces and some state-based marketplaces, like, consumers will have the ability to enroll in coverage or change their current marketplace plan from Feb. 15 through May 15, 2021. The uninsured rate has slowly been ticking up in recent years and opening the marketplaces should aid in decreasing the uninsured rate across the nation. Community health center assisters remain poised and ready to aid patients and consumers with enrollment options. Read the Pennie Press Release.

Reconciliation Bill Update

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce (E&C) committee released its draft language for its section of the COVID Rescue/ Reconciliation bill. The draft includes $7.6 billion for FQHCs, as well as $800 million for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). There is also a significant funding boost for Teaching Health Centers ($330 million), an incentive for the 12 remaining states to expand Medicaid and a provision that could potentially expand FQHC 340B savings on Medicaid drugs. An overview of these provisions was included in the summary of Wednesday’s weekly PACHC call. FQHC Look-alikes are included in the $7.6 billion in FQHC funding. More details will follow as the reconciliation bill is finalized.

White House Announces Community Health Center Vaccination Program

The Biden-Harris Administration announced efforts to ensure that the nation’s hardest-hit populations are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Starting the week of Feb. 15, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) will begin directly receiving vaccine supply. This program is part of a broader effort to ensure all communities are being reached in the national push to get people vaccinated. Community vaccination centers in underserved areas, the retail pharmacy program, mobile clinics, and efforts to increase vaccine confidence are also key tools to help states and communities vaccinate their most vulnerable populations. According to the administration, the program to directly distribute vaccine to FQHCs will be slowly phased in, with limited supply. Initially, only 25 health centers across the country will receive direct distribution of vaccine, and none of these health centers is in Pennsylvania. The following several weeks, vaccine will be sent directly to 250 of the nation’s 1,400 FQHCs. The Administration will increase overall, weekly vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories to 11 million doses nationwide, a 28 percent increase since taking office on Jan. 20.

Department of Health Launches “Your Turn” Vaccine Eligibility Tool

The Pennsylvania Department of Health launched a new tool called Your Turn to help Pennsylvanians understand where they fall in the vaccine prioritization effort and to be alerted when it is their turn to schedule an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. If an individual does not have internet access or is unable to use the Your Turn tool, they can call 877-PA-HEALTH and speak with a representative to determine eligibility. If an individual is eligible, the representative will help the individual locate nearby vaccine providers and provide contact information so the individual can make a vaccine appointment directly with a provider. Your Turn will be used for the sole purpose of determining eligibility for receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in Pennsylvania and will replace the current eligibility quiz on Click here to learn more.

New COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force Announced

The Wolf Administration announced that it is establishing a joint task force with members from each legislative caucus who can share vaccine information and communicate issues and solutions expediently on behalf of and to the broader General Assembly. Task force members will represent their caucus’s point-of-view and work to streamline conversations to focus and drive issues of importance. Wolf Administration members will serve as task force members with the subject matter expertise to listen, collaborate and provide information, answers and suggestions to solve problems in a timely manner. Members of the task force include co-chairs Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Randy Padfield; for the Senate Democratic Caucus, Sen. Art Haywood; for the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Bridget Kosierowski; for the Senate Republican Caucus, Sen. Ryan Aument; and for the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Tim O’Neal. The task force will be meeting as needed and providing updates to the full General Assembly via each of the task force members.