Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Felt for Miles: The Ripple Effect of Rural Hospital Closures

Rural hospitals may be geographically isolated from their urban counterparts, but when they shutter, the effects are felt for miles.

A recent study from the Hershey, Pa.-based Penn State College of Medicine has quantified those impacts. Researchers analyzed the average rate of change for inpatient admissions and emergency department visits at bystander hospitals — those within 30 miles of a selected 53 hospitals that closed between 2005 and 2016  — two years before and two years after the nearby closure.

Researchers found that two years prior to a rural hospital closure, bystander hospitals’ emergency department visits increased an average of 3.59 percent. Two years following a closure, emergency department visits increased an average of 10.22 percent.

Similarly, two years prior to a rural hospital closure, bystander hospitals’ average admissions fell by 5.73 percent. Average admissions rose by 1.17 percent in the two years following a closure.

“We know rural areas, especially regions like Appalachia, are at increased risk for diseases of despair including alcoholism, accidental poisonings and suicide,” Jennifer Kraschnewski, MD, director of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute said in a Dec. 13 Penn State news article. “Increased burden at bystander hospitals and health care institutions may cause these problems to proliferate if other public health interventions aren’t identified and implemented.”

The study results were published in September in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. 

HHS Proposes Rule to Strengthen Beneficiary Protections, Improve Access to Behavioral Health Care, and Promote Equity for Millions of Americans with Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), proposed a rule to strengthen Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage for the tens of millions of people who rely on the programs for health care coverage. The proposed rule improves protections for people with Medicare, expands access to behavioral health care, and promotes equity in coverage. The proposed rule also implements a key provision of the Inflation Reduction Act to make prescriptions drugs more affordable for approximately 300,000 low-income individuals who will benefit in 2024.

“We are taking feedback from thousands of Americans and turning it into concrete action to strengthen Medicare for the millions of Americans who rely on it,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “From streamlining prior authorization to cracking down on misleading marketing, we are committed to ensuring that everyone can have peace of mind and get the health care they need.”

“We continue working tirelessly to implement President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Yesterday, thanks to the new law, we are taking action to lower costs and expand access to affordable prescription drug coverage for hundreds of thousands of people with Medicare, including communities of color and those living on fixed incomes,” the Secretary continued. “CMS released a proposed rule today that takes important steps to hold Medicare Advantage plans accountable for providing high quality coverage and care to enrollees,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “The rule also strengthens Medicare prescription drug coverage and implements an important provision of the Inflation Reduction Act to help more people with Medicare who have modest incomes afford their prescriptions.”

A July 2022 Request for Information on Medicare Advantage drew almost 4,000 comments regarding improvements to the program. We thank stakeholders for their thoughtful feedback, and the policies in this proposed rule are informed by the feedback received.

In this rule, CMS proposes significant changes to strengthen protections for people enrolled in or seeking coverage from Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, including through improvements to prior authorization, coverage guidelines, and plan marketing requirements. The rule proposes clarifications and revisions to regulations governing when and how Medicare Advantage plans develop and use coverage criteria and utilization management policies to ensure Medicare Advantage enrollees receive the same access to medically necessary care they would receive in Traditional Medicare. The rule also proposes policies to streamline prior authorization requirements and reduce disruption for enrollees. It does this by requiring that a granted prior authorization approval remain valid for an enrollee’s full course of treatment, requiring Medicare Advantage plans to annually review utilization management policies, and requiring coverage determinations be reviewed by professionals with relevant expertise. These proposed policies complement proposals in CMS’ recently announced Advancing Interoperability and Improving Prior Authorization Processes Proposed Rule (CMS-0057-P).

Additionally, the proposed rule focuses on protecting people exploring Medicare Advantage and Part D coverage from confusing and potentially misleading marketing while also ensuring access to accurate and necessary information to make coverage choices. The proliferation of certain television advertisements generically promoting Medicare Advantage enrollment has been a topic of concern. To address this, CMS proposes to prohibit ads that do not mention a specific plan name as well as ads that use words and imagery that may be confusing, or use language or logos in a way that is misleading, confusing, or misrepresents the plan. CMS also proposes to codify guidance protecting people with Medicare or exploring Medicare coverage from misleading marketing and ensure they are not pressured into enrolling into plans that may not best meet their needs. Further, CMS is proposing to strengthen the role of plans in monitoring agent and broker activity.

“People exploring Medicare coverage options deserve peace of mind that they are receiving honest, transparent, and accurate information about health coverage options and have access to the care they need. These proposed protections are commonsense and critical to the physical, mental, and financial stability of millions of people who choose a Medicare coverage option each year,” said Dr. Meena Seshamani, CMS Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare.

CMS remains committed to emphasizing the invaluable role that access to behavioral health plays in whole person care. In line with CMS’ Behavioral Health Strategy and the Administration’s strategy to address the national mental health crisis, CMS proposes to strengthen behavioral health network adequacy by adding clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and prescribers of medication for opioid use disorder to the list of evaluated specialties. CMS also proposes new minimum wait time standards for behavioral health and primary care services and more specific notice requirements from plans to patients when these providers are dropped from their networks. Finally, CMS proposes to require most types of Medicare Advantage plans include behavioral health service in care coordination programs, ensuring that behavioral health care is a core part of person-centered care planning.

Additionally, the proposed rule reinforces CMS’ commitment to advancing health equity and driving quality in health coverage. For the first time, CMS proposes establishing a health equity index in the Star Ratings program that would reward excellent care for underserved populations by Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans. The rule also proposes updates to the Medicare Part D medication therapy management (MTM) program to improve access, including a proposed requirement that plans include all 10 core chronic diseases identified by CMS — including HIV/AIDS — in their MTM targeting criteria. Plans would also be required to provide culturally competent care to an expanded list of populations and to improve equitable access to care for those with limited English proficiency, through newly proposed interpreter standards and the requirement that materials be provided in alternate formats and languages. Finally, the proposed rule would balance the emphasis between patient experience, complaints, and access Star Ratings measures and health outcomes Star Ratings measures to more effectively focus both on patient-centric care and on improving clinical outcomes.

In order to implement section 11404 of the Inflation Reduction Act (Pub. L. 117-169), CMS proposes to expand eligibility under the low-income subsidy (LIS) program. Under the IRA provision and proposal, individuals with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level and who meet statutory resource requirements will qualify for the full LIS beginning on or after January 1, 2024. This change will provide the full LIS to those who would currently qualify for the partial LIS, improving access to affordable prescription drug coverage and lowering costs. As a result of this change, eligible enrollees will have no deductible, no premiums (if enrolled in a “benchmark” plan), and fixed, lowered copayments for certain medications.

The proposed rule can be accessed at the Federal Register at Comments on the proposed rule are due by February 13, 2023.

New CDC Guidelines for Opioid Prescribing Announced

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a new Clinical Practice Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Pain. This guideline provides recommendations for clinicians providing pain care, including those prescribing opioids, for outpatients over 18 years of age. It updates the previous CDC guideline and includes recommendations for managing acute (duration of less than one month), subacute (duration of 1–3 months) and chronic (duration of more than three months) pain.

Click here for more information.

Rural Hospital CFOs Don’t See Telehealth As a Solution to Financial Challenges

While rural CFOs acknowledge that telehealth has some financial advantages, they do not believe that it has improved their hospitals’ financial situations, according to a Dec. 5 report published in The American Journal of Managed Care.

The report’s authors interviewed 20 rural hospital CFOs and other hospital administrators from 10 states between October 2021 and January 2022. 17 represented critical access hospitals and 3 represented short-term acute care hospitals, according to the report.

Five findings to know:

  1. The CFOs interviewed reported that limited reimbursement, low volumes, preference for in-person care, and insufficient broadband were key challenges to telehealth’s financial viability.
  2. Most CFOs interviewed believed that telehealth was a loss leader or had a neutral impact on their finances.
  3. Of the hospitals featured in the sample, all but one operated multiple telehealth programs. CFOs shared that their motivation to implement telehealth was driven more by improving quality and, in some cases, keeping up with competition, rather than improving their financial position.
  4. The CFOs said that telehealth requires substantial initial investment in technology and the downstream financial benefits are hard to quantify and not always realized.
  5. Some CFOs interviewed said that the requirement that critical access hospitals maintain an average length of stay of less than 96 hours was a barrier to the growth of their impatient and ED-based telehealth programs.

The Use of Patient Portals May Boost Depression Screening Rates 

People with moderate-to-severe depression may be more willing to engage with health systems through an online portal than by attending clinic visits, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The authors studied data for 1,037 adults due for depression screening at an urban internal medicine clinic to determine whether a portal-based, population health approach could increase depression screening rates compared to the usual care. They found that the screening rate for patients invited to access an online portal was higher than for patients receiving the usual care. Access the study here.

HRSA Introduces Workforce Projection Dashboard

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA) has released its updated Workforce Projections Dashboard. This interactive dashboard shows projections of the supply and demand for the health workforce across the United States. You can use this tool to view projections of the supply and demand for healthcare workers at the state and national level; analyze supply and demand trends by discipline, and analyze projected ‘What if?’ scenarios in the event of changes in the healthcare landscape. The projections are based on the Health Workforce Simulation Model that estimates the current and future supply and demand for healthcare workers by occupation, geographic area, and year. If you have any questions, send them to

New Proposed 340B ADR Rule Has Been Released

On Nov. 30, the Biden Administration released proposed changes to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) rule. The ADR process is the way for manufacturers and covered entities to resolve disputes related to duplicate discounts, diversions, or overcharges within the 340B drug discount program. The new rule differs from the current ADR Process in several key ways: 1) Removal of the requirements to follow the Federal Rules of Evidence and Rules of Civil Procedure; 2) Limiting the ADR Panel members to 340B subject matter experts from the Office of Pharmacy Affairs; 3) Requiring all parties engage in good-faith dispute resolution efforts before initiating the ADR process; 4) Limiting claims to disputes involving overcharges, duplicate discounts, and diversion; 5) Establishing a reconsideration process for ADR Panel decisions; and 6) The 340B ADR Panel may suspend review of a claim if the specific issue that would be brought forth in a claim is the same as or similar to an issue that is pending in Federal court. NACHC will review and provide a comment letter template; comments are due Jan. 30, 2022.

Read About the Good News on Good Faith Estimates

There is good news regarding the requirements for CHCs to provide Good Faith Estimates (GFEs) to uninsured and self-pay patients. From a practical perspective, the requirement that CHCs include costs for services provided by non-CHC providers in the GFEs they give to uninsured and self-pay patients is on hold indefinitely per an FAQ released by CMS on Dec. 2. The FAQ acknowledges that providers will need adequate time for implementation for new regulatory requirements. CMS stated that it would delay enforcing the Phase Two requirements until it finalizes a regulation implementing those requirements. Providers are still waiting for a new regulation or FAQ for CHCs and other providers that use sliding fee scales. To indicate how long they would delay enforcing the legal deadlines, CMS broke the GFE rules into three phases.

  •  Phase One: GFEs must be provided: Only to uninsured and “self-pay” patients, and only include costs for services/items that are provided and billed directly by the CHC.
  •  Phase Two: GFEs for uninsured and self-pay patients must also include costs for services/ items that the patient receives from outside (non-CHC) providers during an “episode of care” that is coordinated by the CHC.
  • Phase Three: GFEs must be provided to patients who plan to bill their insurance.

Medicaid Enrollment Climbs to More Than 3.6 Million in Pennsylvania

As of October 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) reports that Medicaid Enrollment has soared to 3,603,622 eligible recipients with 2,165,516 adults and 1,438,106 children for an average of 0.4% increase over September 2022. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — a program dedicated to helping low-income families and providing money to help pregnant women, dependent children, and other relatives who live with and care for them – has increased to 83,157. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which assists Pennsylvanians with buying goods, has increased enrollment to 1,911,684 individuals. Due to the Public Health Emergency, DHS was approved for a SNAP Waiver from the Food and Nutrition Service to issue one-time issuances to all households that were receiving benefits in the months of March 2020 through December 2022 to bring individuals’ SNAP benefit amounts to the maximum available for their household size.

Social Security Administration Launches Redesigned Website

Visitors to will find a new homepage with more user-friendly links to access documents, replace cards, and update information. Whether providing service in person or online, our goal is to help people understand what they may qualify for and seamlessly transition them to an application process. “Improved self-service capability allows people to skip calling or visiting an office, which helps Social Security staff focus on those visitors who need in-person assistance”, according to Acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi. With more than 180 million people visiting the site annually, this upgrade presents an opportunity for visitors to access needed information more efficiently. Learn more about the eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program and updates on COVID-19 vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries. Visit