Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Introducing “Vira” the Vaxchat Bot

Johns Hopkins University introduces Vira, a vaccine education chatbot, to answer common COVID-19 vaccine questions. The university’s International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), in collaboration with IBM Research, developed Vira. All you need to do is type your question into the chatbot and in just seconds, Vira will offer evidence-based answers vetted by Johns Hopkins vaccine scientists. Vira can be used on both desktop and mobile devices.

Disability Nondiscrimination Laws Apply to People with “Long COVID”

The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice (DOJ) jointly published guidance on how disability nondiscrimination laws apply to people with “long COVID” who may be newly covered because of the impact of the COVID-19 infection. The guidance discusses when long COVID may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal civil rights laws. The White House shared the guidance, along with a directory of resources available through programs funded by the Administration for Community Living, as part of a comprehensive package of resources for people with disabilities, including those with long COVID and other post-COVID conditions.

New Recommendations for Pennsylvanians Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) issued Health Update – 583 – Public Health Recommendations for People Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19 on July 30. This guidance replaces PA-HAN-566 and provides clarification on quarantine recommendations for persons exposed to SARS-CoV-2. In counties with substantial or high transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DOH recommend all persons, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in public indoor settings. Fully vaccinated people who have had a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested 2-5 days after exposure and should wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test. Regardless of vaccination status, any person with new or unexplained symptoms of COVID-19 still needs to isolate and be evaluated for SARS-CoV-2 testing.

If anyone has questions about this guidance, please call your local health department or 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258). Click here for all the 2021 Health Alerts, Advisories and Updates.

Cost of Insurance and Health Care May Rise for the Unvaccinated

In 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines, most major private insurers waived patient payments — from coinsurance to deductibles — for COVID treatment. That is changing and there is logic behind the changes. Insurers are asking why patients should be kept financially unharmed from what is now a preventable hospitalization, thanks to a vaccine that is made available free of charge. More than 97 percent of hospitalized patients last month were unvaccinated. Though the vaccines might not prevent you from catching the coronavirus, they are highly effective at assuring you will have a milder case and are kept out of the hospital. In addition, if a person decides not to get vaccinated and contracts a bad case of COVID-19, they are not only exposing others in their family, workplace and neighborhood, the tens or hundreds of thousands spent on their care could mean higher health insurance premiums for others as well. What’s more, outbreaks in low-vaccination regions could help breed more vaccine-resistant variants that affect everyone. The decision on whether to get vaccinated or not might still be an individual one, but it is one that comes with consequences.

ACA Plans Released from Pennsylvania Insurance Department

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman announced eight insurers will be offering health insurance plans through Pennie for the 2022 plan year. Insurers on the individual market filed rates with an average increase of 2 percent and small group market an average of 4.8 percent over the average previous decreases of 2.6 percent for the 2021 plan year individual market. Twenty-two counties will gain one additional insurer and 3 counties will gain two insurers. Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, new to the ACA market in Pennsylvania, will be offering coverage in Southeast PA: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.

According to the most recent data, 90 percent of Pennie customers are receiving financial assistance in purchasing a marketplace plan due to provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act.

Pennsylvania Governor and Vaccine Task Force Ask Elected Officials to Support Lifesaving Vaccination Efforts

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the members of the bipartisan COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force sent a letter to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, and county and local officials asking them to support vaccination efforts in the commonwealth and encourage their constituents to get vaccinated. The letter calls on officials to use all means at their disposal – including social media, newsletters and events – to connect with constituents and encourage them to take the simple step of getting vaccinated. High vaccination rates are the best protection our communities have against COVID-19.

Click here to learn more.

Senate Committee on Appropriations Advances FY 2022 Agriculture Appropriations Bill 

The Senate Committee on Appropriations held sub- and full committee markups of their fiscal year (FY) 2022 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Although the Committee met NRHA’s recommended funding levels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Broadband program ($700m) and Community Facilities program (3.3b), the bill report language shows that the Committee did not provide funding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Hospital Technical Assistance (TA) program.

HHS Announces $90 million to Improve Health Care in Rural Communities

The Biden Administration announced that it is providing nearly $90 million to help rural communities combat opioid use disorders (OUD) and other forms of substance use disorders (SUD), and to improve access to maternal and obstetrics care. This funding is being distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The $90 million will be split among four key programs: the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) – Implementation ($78 million), the CORP – Psychostimulant Support Program ($7.5 million), the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies (RMOMS) Program ($2.9 million), and the Rural Northern Border Region Planning Program ($760,000).

New Data:  Oral Health Care in Children with Special Needs

Contemporary Pediatrics reported that data from the 2016-18 National Survey of Children’s Health showed 84% of children with special health care needs had received a preventive dental visit in the past year, compared with 78% of those who did not have special health care needs. While the study found that children with special health care needs did receive preventive care more often than children with special needs, also found children with special health care needs had higher rates of oral health problems.

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