Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

National Dental and Fluoridation Associations Respond to New Fluoride Study

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a study that examined fluoride exposure during pregnancy. In response to the release of the study, the American Dental Association and American Fluoridation Society released statements and resources affirming support of fluoride for oral health.

Click here to read the American Dental Association statement.
Click here to read the American Fluoridation Society Key Messages.

HRSA Releases Updated HPSA Data

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) released updated data on Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). In addition, they updated the number of additional dental health practitioners needed to support the HPSAs. The number of HPSAs has grown nationwide since February. The updated data are available on the HPSA dashboard.

Click here for more information and to view the dashboard.

CMS Announces New Funding for Navigators

The federal administration is continuing its robust investment in Navigators, who help people across the country – especially in underserved communities – sign up for health care coverage, by announcing today the availability of $500 million in grants over the next five years. Navigators have been incredibly effective, helping contribute to the record-breaking number of people – 21.4 million – who signed up for health care coverage through the Marketplaces during the 2024 Open Enrollment Period.

The Navigators’ effectiveness is demonstrated by how many people in underserved communities have signed up for Marketplace coverage in 2024:

  • Twenty-two percent of enrollees who report their race/ethnicity are Latino. If the percentage is the same among those not reporting, the estimated number of Latino Americans with Marketplace coverage in 2024 would be approximately five million.
  • Nine percent of enrollees who report their race/ethnicity are Black. If the percentage is the same among those not reporting, the estimated number of Black Americans with Marketplace coverage in 2024 would be almost two million.
  • About 12 percent of enrollees who report their race/ethnicity are AANHPI. If the percentage is the same among those not reporting, the estimated number of AANHPI Americans with Marketplace coverage in 2024 would be over 5 million.
  • One percent of enrollees who report their race/ethnicity are AI/AN. If the percentage is the same among those not reporting, the estimated number of AI/AN Americans with Marketplace coverage in 2024 would be 200,000.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expects to award a total of $500 million over the five-year period of performance, provided in five budget periods of 12 months each. For the first 12-month budget period, to be awarded this fall, $100 million is available, the largest investment in the Navigator program to date.

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Pennsylvania 2024 LGBTQ+ Health Needs Assessment Unveiled

The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is collecting responses for the 2024 Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Health Needs Assessment. This survey is designed to better understand LGBTQ+ patients’ health and better understand the wellbeing and health care experiences of the community. The survey is available in English and Spanish. Please spread the word and share the survey with your networks.

Click here for the English survey.
Click here for the Spanish survey.

New Strategic Plan for Aging in Pennsylvania Launched: Aging Our Way, PA

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro and the Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich unveiled a new blueprint for enhancing services targeted at the state’s elderly population. The plan, “Aging Our Way, PA,” is a ten-year strategic plan aimed to transform how state, regional, and local agencies work together to meet the needs of Pennsylvania’s fast-growing senior population and improve their quality of life.

Click here to learn more.

Pennsylvania Announces Medicaid Program Dental Fee Schedule Changes

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) announced updates to the Medical Assistance (MA) Program Fee Schedule based upon the 2024 Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) updates and based on clinical review. MAB 99-24-03 issued on May 28th can be reviewed in full on the Office of Medical Assistance Program website. See below for dental procedure codes that have been added.

  • D2991 – refers to the application of hydroxyapatite
  • D0190 – refers to screening of a patient
  • D0191 – refers to assessment of a patient

Click here to view the updates.

CMS CDO Application Open Season – Now Live & Available Year-Round!

CMS is pleased to announce the Certified Application Counselor Designated Organization (CDO) Application web form is now live and will remain available year-round!

CDOs are a vital component of the assister community. In states with a Federally-facilitated Marketplace (FFM), CDOs oversee Certified Application Counselors (CACs), who are annually trained and able to help consumers seeking health coverage options through the Marketplace.

Help us spread the word – the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) invites new applicant organizations who want to become CDOs to apply.

This announcement applies only to organizations that:

  • Wish to apply to the CDO program operating in an FFM state, and
  • Do not currently have an active CMS-CDO agreement with CMS

Organizations with an active CMS-CDO agreement should disregard this message. If you are unsure if your organization has an active CMS-CDO agreement with CMS, please contact us at CACQuestions@cms.hhs.gov.

Only organizations that complete the two steps below and receive a CDO ID from CMS can certify staff or volunteers as CACs in an FFM state to provide enrollment assistance services.

To apply to become a CDO:

  1. Access and complete the CDO Application at https://mats.secure.force.com/CDOApplication/. CMS will review your application and send a determination email with your application status. Please allow up to 10 business days for this review.
  2. If CMS approves your application, your leadership contacts will receive a Preliminary Approval email.
  3. Your Organization Senior Official (OSO) listed on your application will receive an email from DocuSign containing directions and a link to your CMS-CDO Agreement and must sign using DocuSign.
  4. Please be sure to check your spam/junk folder and add cacquestions@cms.hhs.gov and  DocuSign email dse@Docusign.net to your approved senders list.
  5. CMS will then review your signed agreement and send your leadership contacts a determination email. If CMS approves your agreement, you will receive a Welcome Packet email with a unique CDO ID and next steps. Please allow up to 5 business days for this review.

Resources for CDO Applicants

For an overview of the CDO Program and resources that walk users through the CDO application, please visit:

For questions or updates, you can email CACQuestions@cms.hhs.gov. Please include your organization’s name and address in the body of your email.

An Obscure Drug Discount Program Stifles Use of Federal Lifeline by Rural Hospitals

Facing ongoing concerns about rural hospital closures, Capitol Hill lawmakers have introduced a spate of proposals to fix a federal program created to keep lifesaving services in small towns nationwide.

In Anamosa, Iowa — a town of fewer than 6,000 residents located more than 900 miles from the nation’s capital — rural hospital leader Eric Briesemeister is watching for Congress’ next move. The 22-bed hospital Briesemeister runs averages about seven inpatients each night, and its most recent federal filings show it earned just $95,445 in annual net income from serving patients.

Yet Briesemeister isn’t interested in converting the facility into a rural emergency hospital, which would mean getting millions of extra dollars each year from federal payments. In exchange for that financial support, hospitals that join the program keep their emergency departments open and give up inpatient beds.

“It wasn’t for us,” said Briesemeister, chief executive of UnityPoint Health-Jones Regional Medical Center. “I think that program is a little bit more designed for hospitals that might not be around without it.”

Nationwide, only about two dozen of the more than 1,500 eligible hospitals have become rural emergency hospitals since the program launched last year. At the same time, rural hospitals continue to close — 10 since the fix became available.

Federal lawmakers have introduced a handful of legislative solutions since March. In one bill, senators from Kansas and Minnesota list a myriad of tactics, including allowing older closed facilities to reopen.

Another proposal introduced in the House by two Michigan lawmakers is the Rural 340B Access Act. It would allow rural emergency hospitals to use the 340B federal drug discount program, which Congress created in 1992.

The 340B program, named after its federal statute, lets eligible hospitals and clinics buy drugs at a discount and then bill insurance companies, Medicare, or Medicaid at market rates. Hospitals get to keep the money they make from the difference.

Congress approved 340B as an indirect aid package to help struggling hospitals stay afloat. Many larger hospitals say the cash is used for community benefits and charity care, while many small hospitals depend on the drug discounts to help cover staffing and operational shortfalls.

Currently, emergency hospitals are not eligible for 340B discounts. According to a release from U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), the House proposal would “correct this oversight.” Backers of the House bill include the American Hospital Association and the National Rural Health Association.

Read more.

Affordable Broadband Program Sputters to a Halt, Ending Free Internet for 3.2 Million Rural Households

On June 3, 2024, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will is pay out the dregs of a fund that Congress established in 2021 to help lower-income families connect to the internet.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, part of the landmark 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is out of money as of May 31, 2024.

This month, the FCC sent final payments to some 23 million households that participated in the program. About 14% of participants (3.2 million households) were rural, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of FCC data.

The White House laid blame for closure of the program at the feet of Republican lawmakers who have not advanced pending legislation to continue funding.

“Republicans have failed to act,” said Stephen Benjamin, a senior adviser to the president, in an online White House press conference. “Millions of Americans will see prices increase for the necessary connectivity to do their homework, access telehealth, hold a remote job, or run a small business from their home.”

Benjamin called ACP “the largest and most successful internet affordability program in our nation’s history.”

ACP provided $30 to eligible families to pay for low-cost broadband connections. Participants on tribal lands were eligible for $75 a month. As part of the effort, the White House persuaded internet service providers to offer ACP participants a lower monthly subscription rate, resulting in no net cost to users.

The White House announced Friday that 14 internet service providers have agreed to continue offering the low-cost subscriptions to ACP participants for the rest of 2024, despite the end of federal funding for the program. But more than half of ACP participants get their broadband from an internet service provider that has not agreed to offer the lower rate. (See below for a list.)

“In the absence of funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, President (Joe) Biden remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure families continue to access affordable high-speed internet,” Benjamin said.

ISPs That Will Continue Low-Cost Program

According to a White House fact sheet, the following companies (which range from national telecommunications giants to small, local companies) have agreed to continuing offering the $30 internet subscription with no data cap or fees through the rest of 2024:

  • Allo Fiber
  • altafiber (and Hawaiian Telcom)
  • Astound Broadband
  • AT&T
  • Comcast
  • Cox
  • IdeaTek
  • Mediacom
  • MLGC
  • Optimum
  • Spectrum (Charter Communications)*
  • Starry
  • Verizon
  • Vermont Telephone Company

*Offer available to new subscribers and eligible existing customers.

Read more.

CMS Announces 2024 CMS Health Equity Award Recipients

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proud to announce the recipients of the 2024 CMS Health Equity Award. The CMS Health Equity Award is awarded to organizations working towards advancing health equity by reducing disparities in health care access, quality, and outcomes.

The CMS Health Equity Awardees at the CMS Health Equity Conference on May 30, 2024.

The 2024 CMS Health Equity Award Recipients are:

Latino Connection, Harrisburg, PA, Community-Accessible Testing & Education (CATE) Initiative (provided by Latino Connection)

In 2014, George Fernandez founded a community-based organization, Latino Connection, in the heart of Pennsylvania to create and activate programming in low-income communities to address every aspect of the social determinants of health. Their Community-Accessible Testing & Education (CATE) initiative was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of addressing disparities in access to essential resources and education among underserved communities. With Latino Connection being the first Latino and LGBTQ+ organization to launch such a program, CATE represents a groundbreaking effort to provide critical support to populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including minorities, low-income individuals, LGBTQ+ communities, and those residing in urban areas.

CATE has successfully reached thousands of Pennsylvanians with lifesaving resources and education. Between 2020 and 2022, nearly 9,000 COVID-19 tests and over 17,000 vaccinations were administered across the state, particularly in vulnerable and underserved communities who may not have had access otherwise. CATE also provided 500 flu shots and 10,000 PPE kits, resources, and education in both English and Spanish to the more than 37,000 people that attended all their community events combined. Latino Connection’s CATE initiative exemplifies the transformative power of community-driven interventions in addressing health disparities.

By prioritizing inclusivity, accessibility, and collaboration, CATE has not only provided critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic but has also laid the groundwork for long-term improvements in health equity across Pennsylvania.

Augusta Health, Shenandoah Valley, VA, Primary Care Mobile Clinic Program (provided by Augusta Health)

Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, Augusta Health is a 255-bed, non-profit, independent hospital serving communities of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, in a semi-rural setting. Embracing their vision to be “a national model for community-based healthcare”, Augusta Health reaches out to neighborhoods with rural geographic barriers and local cities with high poverty rates and adverse social and health barriers. One of the ways they respond to acute deficits in access to health care in the community is through the implementation and growth of their Primary Care Mobile Clinic program (Today known as the Augusta Health Neighborhood Clinics).

Since its official launch in September 2022, the Primary Care Mobile Clinic program has expanded to operate at 14 unique sites each month. Sites have included community centers, churches, a fire house, the mayor’s office, and homeless shelters. Neighborhood selection is based on identifying communities in the most need through analysis using the University of Wisconsin’s Area Deprivation Index (ADI) score and mapping techniques.  Building upon the analytics, the key component for their success is having community partners with local expertise in key social services like housing and food insecurity.

Within the first full year of the program, the Primary Mobile Clinic has provided more than 1,700 primary care visits for 825 patients at 17 different community sites. Services vary by location and are based on community need.

To learn more about the CMS Health Equity Award and to sign up for updates on other grants and awards, please visit go.cms.gov/HEaward.