Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Changes Are Coming to Pennsylvania’s HealthChoices Medicaid Dental Benefit Plans

With changes to the participating Pennsylvania Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCO) in each Physical HealthChoices zones, changes to Dental Coverage will begin September 1 for some plans. Each MCO uses a separate administrator for dental services. When patients or consumers are choosing MCO plans, it is important to see if their chosen provider accepts the participating dental plan under Avesis, Skygen, or United Concordia. See the coverage map on the fact sheet. 

ACA Lawsuit Threatens Free Preventive Care for Millions

Filed by a group of employers and individuals who object to providing certain preventive care or don’t want to pay for preventive care they feel isn’t necessary; Kelley v. Becerra argues that the ACA’s requirement for insurers and health plans is unconstitutional. If it succeeds, millions of Americans could lose access to all preventive care guaranteed by the ACA or be forced to pay out of pocket for these vital services. These vital screens include but are not limited to check-ups, screenings for blood pressure, colorectal cancer, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes for adults, STDs, lead, and autism screening. Want more, see this article from the Commonwealth Fund.

Housing and Rental Assistance Available for Those Affected By COVID-19

Funded by the U.S. Department of Treasury, the PA Homeowner Association Fund helps homeowners experiencing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing funds to prevent displacement, mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures and loss of utilities or home energy services. Registering for the program is the first step in the process to obtain assistance. The Consolidated Appropriations ACT of 2021 provides funds for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and is administered through the PA Department of Human Services (DHS). Applications are now being accepted through the DHS COMPASS portal.

Bipartisan Legislation in the House Continues Telehealth Services

The U.S. House passed HR 4040, Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021, which is sponsored by Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI). The bill continues Medicare telehealth provisions for two years after the Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires. This bill would temporarily help health centers by allowing them to receive payment for telehealth medical and behavioral health services. Seniors, residents in rural areas, and communities with limited broadband access will benefit from the legislation. They will be able to continue to receive telehealth services, including audio-only visits. The U.S. Senate is not expected to review this bill before their August recess.

Pennsylvania Governor Sues State Legislature Over Abortion and Other Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf sued the state legislature over a package of proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would say the state constitution does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or public funding of abortions. The lawsuit file in the state Supreme Court argues that the proposed abortion amendment would violate privacy protections. The suit also claims that bundling the abortion amendment together with four others in a bill that passed the General Assembly earlier this month runs afoul of a constitutional rule against passing legislation that addresses multiple, unrelated topics. The other four amendments would require voter ID, have gubernatorial candidates choose their own running mates, empower legislators to cancel regulations without facing a governor’s veto and establish election audits. Although the House and Senate voted on them as a package, mostly along partisan lines, voters would consider the questions individually.

Pennsylvania Governor’s Administration Expands Naloxone Standing Order

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s Administration announced the expansion of Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson’s naloxone standing order to combat the rise of overdoses in Pennsylvania. The standing order now includes ZIMHI, a 5 milligram (mg) intra-muscular injection device that comes as a single-dose pre-filled syringe or a carton containing two cases of the pre-filled syringes. Residents can present a copy of the standing order at their local pharmacy to obtain life-saving naloxone. The medication is also available free for personal use through a statewide mail-based naloxone program in partnership with Prevention Point Pittsburgh and NEXT Distro. The Department of Health recently revised Pennsylvania’s naloxone training video and resources available through Train PA to include updated overdose death statistics and information on administering naloxone. To watch the training or see the available resources, you must create an account through Train PA.

The US Mental Health Hotline Network Is Expanding, but Rural Areas Still Face Care Shortages

By Kaiser Health News; reported in The Daily Yonder

On July 16, a three-digit number, 988, became the centerpiece of a nationwide effort to unify responses to Americans experiencing mental health crises. But many people, especially those in rural areas, will continue to find themselves far from help if they need more support than call operators can offer.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 phone number, which launched July 16, was designed as a universal mental health support tool for callers at any time anywhere.

But the U.S. is a patchwork of resources for crisis assistance, so what comes next isn’t universal. The level of support that 988 callers receive depends on their ZIP code.

In particular, rural Americans, who die by suicide at a far higher rate than residents of urban areas, often have trouble accessing mental health services. While 988 can connect them to a call center close to home, they could end up being directed to far-away resources.

The new system is supposed to give people an alternative to 911, yet callers from rural areas who are experiencing a mental health crisis may still be met by law enforcement personnel, rather than mental health specialists.

More than 150 million people in the U.S. — most from rural or partially rural communities — live in places designated as mental health professional shortage areas by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. That means their communities don’t have enough mental health providers — usually psychiatrists — to serve the population.

The Biden administration distributed about $105 million to states to help increase local crisis call center staffing for the new 988 system. But states are responsible for filling any gaps in the continuum of care that callers rely on if they need more than a phone conversation. States also shoulder most of the responsibility for staffing and funding their 988 call centers once the federal funding runs dry.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which runs the existing 800-273-8255 lifeline that 988 expands upon, has said that a state that launches a successful 988 program will ensure callers have a mental health professional to talk to, a mobile crisis team to respond to them, and a place to go — such as a short-term residential crisis stabilization facility — that offers diagnosis and treatment. The federal agency also intends for 988 to reduce reliance on law enforcement, expand access to mental health care, and relieve pressure on emergency rooms.

Those objectives may not play out equally in all states or communities.

Read more.

House Members Ask HHS to Clarify Enforcement Plans for 96-Hour Rule

A bipartisan group of 25 House members asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to clarify by September 9 whether and how the Administration plans to enforce Medicare’s 96-hour payment rule and condition of participation for critical access hospitals after the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The rule requires CAHs to certify inpatients will be discharged or transferred to another hospital within 96 hours of admission to receive payment. A related Medicare condition of participation requires CAH inpatient stays to remain below 96 hours on an annual average basis. HHS has not prioritized enforcement of the rule since 2018 due to its financial burden on hospitals and waived the condition of participation in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“Even after the PHE formally ends, COVID and other respiratory diseases are likely to cause some patients to need hospitalizations lasting longer than 96 hours,” the representatives wrote. “These and other patients who can safely and effectively be treated in their local hospital deserve the option of receiving care closer to their homes, families, and usual doctors.”