Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Pennsylvania Amends Universal Face Coverings Order

Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam amended the existing Universal Face Coverings order, issued on Nov. 17, 2020, to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. The amended order went into effect at 12:01 am on March 17, 2021 and will remain in effect until further notice. According to the CDC, there are several activities that fully vaccinated people can resume now, as low risk to themselves, while being mindful of the potential risk of transmitting the virus to others. Learn more.

340B/Insulin/EpiPen Regulation Delayed

The HRSA Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) announced in the Federal Register that the effective date of the 340B/Insulin/EpiPen regulation will be delayed by another 120 days, until July 20, 2021. BPHC received 198 comments on the proposed delay, of which 187 were supportive. Their two main justifications for the extension aligned with the two main points that PCAs/FQHCs raised in their comments: a further delay is consistent with the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Freeze, and a further delay is appropriate given the critical role that FQHCs have been assigned since January in vaccinating hard-to-reach populations. This suggests that comments from the health center community were effective in getting to this outcome. While much of PCA/FQHC community would have preferred for BPHC to rescind the regulation entirely, rescinding the reg was not an option for BPHC at this time.

Medicare Public Meetings in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania APPRISE, Senior Medicare Patrol, and PA Health Law Project will be hosting a series of Medicare Public Meetings throughout March and April 2021. The events are open to people on Medicare who live in Pennsylvania and their caregivers. Topics will include programs that help with Medicare costs, Medicare coverage of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment and fraud prevention.

  • March 29, 2:00 – 3:00 pm: Click here to Join; call in number: 1-301-715-8592; meeting ID: 897 8344 8093
  • April 7, 10:00 – 11:00 am: Click here to Join; call in number: 1-646-876-9923; meeting ID: 842 4667 8595
  • April 12, 2:00 – 3:00 am: Click here to Join; call in number: 1-301-715-8592; meeting ID: 842 0730 0972
  •  April 16, 11:00 -12:00 pm: Click here to Join; call in number: 1-301-715-8592; meeting ID: 836 3275 8126

Free Tax Help Is Available

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $57,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing for qualified individuals. Click here to find a location.

Pennie Extends Special Enrollment Period

On March 25, the Pennie Board of Directors voted to extend the current COVID-19 Special Open Enrollment Period to August 15, 2021, aligning with the federal extension which was announced earlier this week. Pennie is currently working to implement operational and technology changes to ensure the availability of savings provided through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The ARPA provides additional financial assistance with more general tax credits, eliminates the subsidy cliff for those making more than 400% FPL to ensure they pay no more than 8.5% of their income on premiums for the next two years, makes those eligible for unemployment compensation in 2021 eligible to receive the maximum level of tax credits and cost sharing reductions, ensures that those who received excess Advance Premium Tax Credits (APTC) in 2020 will not have to pay them back when they file their taxes and customers currently accessing health coverage through COBRA will pay no premiums for their coverage from April through September.

LIFT America Act Introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats

The Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, was introduced by Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In addition to provisions to modernize the nation’s infrastructure, combat climate change, and invest in public health, the $312 billion infrastructure package includes $10 billion in funding for Community Health Center capital project grants as part of a $30 billion investment in health infrastructure and $80 billion for the deployment of secure and resilient high-speed broadband to expand access nationwide. The Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the legislation on March 22, 2021.

Pennsylvania Governor to Nominate Meg Snead as Secretary of Human Services

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf this week announced his intention to nominate Meg Snead to serve as the next Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Snead’s nomination comes after current DHS Secretary Teresa Miller announced her departure from the administration effective April 30, 2021. Most recently, Snead served as Gov. Wolf’s Secretary of Policy and Planning overseeing the administration’s development and implementation of policy priorities, including the COVID-19 pandemic response, ensuring access to health care, and breaking barriers to critical human services. Snead comes to Pennsylvania with a background in affordable housing, homelessness, and health care policy, having spent 10 years working in the nonprofit industry in the Denver area.

Order Directs Vaccine Providers in Pennsylvania to Work with AAAs

Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam this week signed an amended order indicating that certain vaccine providers must work with local Area Agencies on Aging and Medical Assistance managed care organizations to specifically schedule adults eligible in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan. The order also requires these providers to have the ability to schedule appointments for individuals into the future. Under this order, a vaccine provider that informs a Phase 1A individual that no appointments are available may be subject to enforcement. The order also requires providers to continue to ensure that appointments can be scheduled both by phone and using online scheduling systems. Click here to learn more.

House Appropriations L-HHS Subcommittee Holds Hearing on “Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis” 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (L-HHS) held a hearing on “Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis.” During the hearing, Members largely focused their remarks on how the current maternal health crisis is an issue of health equity. Notably, Chairwoman Delauro noted that the crisis is also a distinctly rural issue with hospital closures and declining access to maternal health services in rural areas is negatively impacting rural maternal health outcomes. You can find a Twitter thread created by the NRHA government affairs team on the hearing here.

Senate Votes to Extend the Paycheck Protection Program 

The Senate voted 92-7 to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to the end of May. Earlier this week, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the department charged with dispersing the PPP, issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) regarding new provisions from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 were provisions allowing small hospitals with fewer than 500 employees at a location to be eligible for the funding, even if affiliated with a larger system. NRHA will continue to monitor SBA’s actions in implementing new PPP provisions.