Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

HHS Report on Telehealth Utilization amid COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), issued a new report showing the dramatic utilization trends of telehealth services for primary care delivery in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report analyzes claims data from January through early June and underscores how telehealth flexibilities helped to spur and maintain Medicare beneficiaries’ access to their primary care providers. At the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), with stay-at-home orders in place and warnings on the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increasing with age, the report found Medicare FFS in-person visits for primary care fell precipitously in mid-March. It then found that in April, nearly half (43.5%) of Medicare primary care visits were provided through telehealth compared with less than one percent (0.1%) in February before the PHE. Read the press release.

Quest Predicts New FDA-Approved Lab Method Will Slash COVID-19 Test Turnaround Times

Commercial labs like Quest Diagnostics have faced challenges in keeping pace with outbreaks, leading to extended times to turn around coronavirus tests.  The delay–in some cases of up to several weeks– have made testing of significantly less value. With the announcement by Quest on Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration has granted the company emergency authorization to use a new technique, the company said it expects “to achieve average turnaround times of 1 day for ‘Priority 1’ patients and 2-3 days for all other patients in coming weeks.” The new technique, which “speeds the process of extracting viral RNA from specimens,” will also boost Quest’s overall testing capacity. Read more.

HHS Announces Revised Reporting Schedule for Provider Relief Fund

On July 21, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released information updating the timeline and schedule for mandatory reports on the use of Provider Relief Funds (PRF). (Please note: this information supersedes the announcement from May 2020 that reports would be due within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter; that guidance has been rescinded.) The first report will now be due no later than Feb. 15, 2021 and will cover all funds used during CY 2020. Health centers that have not spent all their PRF monies in CY 2020 must submit a second report on their use of PRF funds in 2021; this report is due no later than July 31, 2021. HHS indicates that no reports will be accepted after July 10, 2021, suggesting that June 30, 2021 is the final date for using PRF funds; however, HHS has yet to say anything explicit about such an end date. HHS has also not released anything on what information must be included in these reports. HHS states that this information will be available no later than August 17, and that the reporting system will open on October 1. Please see the official HHS announcement for further details. Also, the NACHC “mega-spreadsheet” of info on Federal COVID funding sources will be updated ASAP to reflect this new info, including the chart list of major deadlines in Tab 2.

Value-Based Care: A Primer for Outreach and Enabling Services Staff

Health Outreach Partners, a HRSA-funded National Training and Technical Assistance Partners (NTTAP), created this free, downloadable publication, Value-Based Care: A Primer for Outreach and Enabling Services Staff, to introduce value-based care and incentive payments to outreach and enabling services staff at community health centers. It describes the role of value-based care in outreach and provides specific examples of value-based care models and the relevance to health center outreach and enabling services staff.

New Pennsylvania Reinsurance Program

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Health Insurance Exchange Authority, received authorization to operate a Reinsurance Program under section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act, also known as a State Relief and Empowerment waiver, from 2021 through 2025. The reinsurance program will reduce premiums for consumers on the marketplace by approximately 5-10 percent for plan year 2021 and increase affordability and access to quality coverage. Reinsurance programs provide a direct benefit to consumers by paying a portion of provider claims that would normally be paid by consumers through higher premiums.

Bill Banning ‘Gag Clauses’ on Pharmacists Signed by Governor

Legislation that increases transparency and consumer choice in the prescription drug marketplace is now law. HB 943 (Act 67) ends the long-standing “gag clause” imposed on pharmacists, barring them from informing customers of lower-cost alternatives at the pharmacy counter. Such a prohibition stems from language contained in some pharmacy contracts that disallows pharmacists from disclosing any information to their customers that could potentially reduce their out-of-pocket costs for medications. The bill was signed into law July 23 and becomes effective in 60 days.

Governor Signs Revisions to Minor Consent Act into Law

On July 23, Gov. Wolf signed HB 672 (Act 65 of 2020) into law repealing provisions related to mental health treatment and release of medical records and adding new language providing for consent for voluntary inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment and for release of medical records. The law enables certain minors to consent to medical, dental and health services, declaring consent unnecessary under certain circumstances. The changes become effective in 60 days.

State Opens Opioid Use Disorder Center of Excellence Opportunity

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) reported on July 16, 2020, that it will allow additional Medicaid providers to enroll as an opioid use disorder Center of Excellence (COE). Providers who enroll in the Medicaid program as a COE will be eligible to bill managed care organizations (MCOs) for care management services. DHS will continue to monitor the COE care model to ensure that new providers are meeting the standards. For more information, see related article above on PACHC’s call on this OUD-COE opportunity. Access the DHS Opioid Use Disorder Centers of Excellence Bulletin & Application.

Cerner Launches Cloud-Based EHR System Geared for Rural and Critical Access Hospitals

Cerner, an electronic health record software company, launched a cloud-based version of its electronic health record (EHR) with the aim of helping rural and Critical Access Hospitals eliminate costs associated with traditional EHR systems. Many rural hospitals are now facing increased pressure to cut costs to stay afloat due to losses in revenue from cancelled elective procedures and patient attrition. Cloud-based EHRs help cut costs by lowering maintenance costs and fixed payments, allowing rural health systems to focus their budgets on operational costs. Many experts expect to see more rural health systems invest in this innovative technology and potentially use some of the funds from the $10 billion rural carveout of the Provider Relief Fund distributed by HHS to install cloud-based EHRs.

COVID Crisis Highlights Need for Rural Broadband

Rural hospitals are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of having adequate broadband to enable access to telehealth. As telehealth becomes more popular, broadband becomes increasingly essential. The July 15 Webinar, “COVID-19 Impacts on Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” the fourth webinar in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars CoBank sponsors, presented speakers covering these issues. These presenters advocate for rural broadband and healthcare stabilization through policy action. In addition, this article highlights a struggling hospital and showcases communication companies that have signed the pledge to not disconnect anyone from broadband service due to the inability to pay for their service.