Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

U.S. Poised to Lose Measles Elimination Status

There’s a “reasonable chance” the United States will lose its measles elimination status in October because of ongoing measles outbreaks in New York, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. When the World Health Organization declared in 2000 that the U.S. had eliminated measles, it was hailed as one of the biggest public health achievements in the nation’s history.

Physician Opinions of ACA on the Rise

A new study, led by researchers of the Mayo Clinic and reported in the Journal of Health Affairs, finds that the majority of U.S. physicians now support the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Physicians see the ACA as a “net positive” for the U.S. health care system, according to the study. The study shows an 11% upward swing in physician opinion about the ACA over five years.  Most major physician groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians have opposed efforts by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to derail the ACA.

“Walmart Health” – A New Primary Care Venture

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is moving deeper into the primary care and mental health market, opening a new clinic called Walmart Health in Georgia. The company recently updated its website with a link to Walmart Health and also went online with the site “,” where patients can set up appointments. Walmart is testing the concept with this initial clinic that will give patients access to comprehensive and low-cost primary care, including for mental health issues. The website indicates that the company will offer primary care, dental, counseling, labs, X-rays and audiology, among other services. Walmart is already one of the largest pharmacy companies in the U.S., offering in-store sections for prescription drugs in almost all of its 4,700 locations across the U.S. The company said health and wellness, which includes pharmacy, clinical and optical services, accounted for about 9%, or $36 billion, of its roughly $332 billion in U.S. sales last fiscal year. Walmart’s distinct opportunity is that roughly 140 million people visit its stores every week, and it has about 1.5 million U.S. employees spread across cities of all sizes, including in rural areas where there’s a shortage of health-care services.

Pennsylvania Increases Conditions Eligible for Medical Marijuana to 23

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, allowing it to be used to treat 17 medical conditions. That list has now grown to include 23 conditions. Eligible conditions now include anxiety disorder, ALS, autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, damage to nervous tissue of the spinal cord, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, intractable seizures, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, neuropathies, opioid use disorder, Parkinson’s, PTSD, severe chronic or intractable pain, sickle cell anemia, terminal illness and Tourette syndrome. Someone with one of the conditions must have it certified by a doctor who is state-approved to obtain a card enabling them to buy medical marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Pennsylvania Is a State-Based Exchange Using a Federal Platform for 2020

On July 2, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 3 (now Act 42 of 2019) into law to create a state-based exchange (SBE) in Pennsylvania and begin a two-year transition from the current federally-facilitated Marketplace through to the SBE. Full transition to the SBE is slated for the 2021 Open Enrollment period and at that time the commonwealth will host its own website, navigator programs, call center and marketing and outreach. For this 2020 transition year, PACHC has been awarded sole state funding to operate the Navigator Program under the Pennsylvania Health Insurance Exchange Authority. Since implementation of the ACA in 2010, Pennsylvania has relied on the federal health insurance exchange. To cover costs, the federal government charged insurers a 3.5 percent fee on premiums paid by ACA enrollees each month, a projected $98 million for Pennsylvania insurers in 2019. This user fee is expected to be cut to 3% beginning in 2020, decreasing the amount to approximately $88 million. Pennsylvania will continue to use to enroll consumers for 2020 coverage, to calculate premium tax credits and to enroll consumers eligible for special enrollment periods.

Pennsylvania Awarded Another $75M to Respond to Opioid Epidemic 

State and local agencies in Pennsylvania will receive $75 million over the next year to combat the opioid epidemic, part of $1.8 billion in funding the Trump administration announced Wednesday. The new round of funding includes $8.5 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, $5.9 million to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and $5.2 million to the Allegheny County Health Department to better collect and track overdose data as close to real time as possible.  The state intends to use the money to help overwhelmed county offices and find ways to streamline data collection into a standardized statewide system.  This new money to support opioid reporting is in addition to the nearly $56 million the state will receive in the next year to carry out its opioid response plan.

ARC Substance Abuse Advisory Council Issues Final Report of Recommendations

This week, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) formally accepted a final Report of Recommendations developed by the Substance Abuse Advisory Council (SAAC) outlining proposed steps for developing a robust recovery ecosystem in Appalachia. Among the recommended strategies for action include developing community playbooks, employers toolkits, model workforce training programs, and community navigation programs. Many of the recommendations’ key themes were drawn from six Recovery-to-Work Listening Sessions hosted by ARC, coupled with expertise from the SAAC, a 24-member volunteer group of leaders from recovery services, health, economic development, private industry, education, state government, law enforcement, and other sectors representing each of the Region’s 13 states. ARC seated the SAAC earlier this year with the charge to develop concrete guiding recommendations to ARC for addressing the workforce impacts of Appalachia’s substance abuse epidemic.

“This report, the result of excellent work by the ARC Substance Abuse Advisory Council, is informed and inspired by the people of the Appalachian Region, who have been especially impacted by the substance abuse epidemic in our country,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “I am proud not only of the innovative and necessary recommendations they have produced, but of the transparent and participatory process by which they reached their conclusions. Their effort proves that effective leadership begins at the community level. I accept their recommendations, thank the Commission for doing the same, and will seek to begin addressing them with our state partners in future ARC programs.”

Vaccine Coverage Lower For Rural Teens

In late August 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released results from the National Immunization Survey-Teen (NIS-Teen) in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), providing the latest estimates of vaccination rates among adolescents in the United States. The key findings from the report include a lower rate of vaccination in rural areas. This MMWR also included a report on the latest estimates of HPV cancers in the United States, which found that HPV vaccination could prevent 92 percent of cancers estimated to be caused by HPV. To support healthcare professionals in making effective recommendations, addressing parents’ questions and concerns, and reinforcing the message that HPV vaccination is cancer prevention, the CDC has developed a number of educational resources.  The full MMWR report can be accessed here.

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Announces Suicide Prevention Task Force Public Listening Sessions

On May 29, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s administration announced the creation of a statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force. The goal of this task force is to bring together state agencies with differing responsibilities and constituencies to inform a comprehensive, statewide suicide prevention plan.

Suicide does not discriminate, and all ages, genders, regions, and socioeconomic statuses may be affected. Because of this, the task force is seeking public input on their ideas for suicide prevention, education around mental health and suicide, and how to dispel the stigma around suicide and mental health.

Public listening sessions will take place around the commonwealth beginning in September through November. Sessions are currently scheduled for:

  • Thursday, September 12, 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Penn State Behrend – Erie, PA
  • Thursday, September 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Temple University – Philadelphia, PA
  • Thursday, October 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Jewish Community Center – York, PA
  • Thursday, October 24 – 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Area – Additional Details Coming Soon
  • Friday, October 25 – 10 a.m.-12 p.m. – Allentown – Additional Details Coming Soon
  • Thursday, November 7 – 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Jewish Healthcare Foundation – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Friday, November 8 – 10 a.m.-12 p.m. – Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA
  • Friday, November 15 – 10 a.m.-12 p.m. – Southeastern Pennsylvania – Additional Details Coming Soon

You can register for the listening sessions here. Please complete one registration per participant from your organization or family. If you would like to speak, please indicate that on your registration. Additional details on locations and parking will be sent ahead of each event.