Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Latest Federal Guidance and Releases in Response to COVID-19

The federal government continues to take aggressive and proactive steps to address the COVID-19 threat as the health and safety of the American people remain a top priority. Please see below for the latest guidance and releases in response to COVID-19.

Secretary Azar Announces Historic Expansion of Telehealth Access to Combat COVID-19: On Tuesday, the Trump Administration and HHS announced unprecedented steps to expand Americans’ access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Centers for Medicare & and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded Medicare coverage for telehealth visits, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it will waive potential HIPAA penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency, and the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) provided flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive beneficiary cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs. For more information see links to the CMS press release, OCR Guidance, and OIG Policy Statement.

FDA Expands Testing Capabilities: On Monday night, FDA Commissioner Hahn announced that states can set up their own system in which they take responsibility for authorizing such tests and the laboratories will not need to engage with the FDA to conduct COVID-19 testing. The updated guidance also expands the types of labs that can conduct testing and provides recommendations for test developers who are interested in developing a test. The FDA has established 1-888-INFO-FDA, to help labs with any questions they may have about the Emergency Use Authorization process, FDA policies or getting supplies. Similar to approving Roche testing last week, yesterday, the FDA also issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) to Hologic and LabCorp for their tests.

CMS Guidance for States to Apply for a Section 1135 Emergency Waiver: CMS has provided guidance for states on how to apply for a Section 1135 waiver through the Medicaid Disaster Response Tool Kit. A factsheet was released that outlines the flexibilities for healthcare providers to combat and contain COVID-19. CMS will soon provide checklists and tools to further expedite requests and approvals for waivers and other commonly requested flexibilities. Yesterday, Florida was the first state to apply for and receive approval for an 1135 waiver.

Restrictions on Gatherings: On Monday, the White House Task Force released updated guidance with a 15 day strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 that recommends restricting gathers to 10 people or less.

CMS Nursing Home Guidance: On Friday, CMS released updated nursing home guidance that further protects nursing home residents by restricting all visitors to nursing homes except in cases of end-of-life care. The memo can be found here.

Guidance for Discontinuation of Home Isolation for Persons with COVID-19: CDC released new guidance with strategies to discontinue home isolation with options including both a time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery (non-test-based) strategy as well as a test-based strategy. This guidance will assist healthcare providers and public health officials managing people with COVID-19 under home isolation. Information can be found here.

Considerations in the Investigation of Cases and Clusters of COVID-19: The World Health Organization released interim guidance on Friday that includes operational guidance to for the rapid investigation of suspected COVID-19 cases after an alert or signal. It is to be used by local, regional, or national health authorities as considerations for investigating cases of COVID-19.

Regulatory Relief for Commercial Vehicles Delivering COVID-19 Supplies: On Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an Emergency Declaration that provides regulatory relief for vehicles that are transporting medical supplies and equipment to support emergency relief efforts.

President Trump Expands Telehealth Benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries During COVID-19 Outbreak

On March 17, the Trump Administration announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of health care services from their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility. Beginning on March 6, 2020, Medicare—administered by CMS—will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country.

For More Information:

This guidance, and earlier CMS actions in response to the COVID-19 virus, are part of the ongoing White House Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit the webpage.

For information specific to CMS, visit the Current Emergencies website.

Expanded Telehealth Benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries During COVID-19 Outbreak

On March 17, 2020, the Trump Administration today announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Beginning on March 6, 2020, Medicare—administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country.

To read the Fact Sheet on this announcement visit

To read the Frequently Asked Questions on this announcement visit:

This guidance, and earlier CMS actions in response to the COVID-19 virus, are part of the ongoing White House Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19 click here For information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

Message from PA Oral Health Coalition about COVID-19

The PA Coalition for Oral Health (PCOH) has releaesd a statement on oral health services during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“As Pennsylvania has been justifiably proactive in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, the PA Coalition for Oral Health supports the state issuing directives to the dental community immediately to initiate ’emergency treatment only’ policies. Stopping the spread of this virus and protecting the health and safety of patients, their family members, and dental professionals is our first priority.”

Click here to read the full message.

CDC Update for Rural Communities on the COVID-19 Disease Response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put together a special program for RURAL providers and stakeholders for an update on the COVID-19 response. Registration is required by linking here.

Date: Monday, March 23, 2020
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Presenter: Dr. Jay Butler (Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases)

Dr. Butler will share guidance with partners, public health practitioners, healthcare providers, and others working to protect the health of rural communities. He will describe what CDC knows at this point and what CDC is doing in response to this outbreak. We will also have time for questions and answers.

Please email to submit questions in advance and indicate that questions are for the 3/23 call.

This event will be recorded. Questions not answered during it may be sent to


Need Help with Health Insurance or Benefits in the Midst of the Crisis? PHAN Can Help!

Need help with health insurance or benefits in the midst of the crisis?

Call PHAN’s Helpline at 877-570-3642

The response to COVID-19 is changing rapidly. Many counties in our state are requiring tele-working, closing childcare centers, and more. All K-12 schools are closed, and Governor Wolf recently ordered the closing of all non-essential businesses for the next two weeks.

This means that many Pennsylvania residents will start to worry about things like health insurance, paychecks, utilities, housing, bills, and other things that could affect our families’ health and financial well-being.  That’s why PHAN is offering their helpline to make sure folks get connected with appropriate programs:

Call PHAN’S Helpline at 877-570-3642 with questions!

National Rural Health Association Announces Resources

The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) is here to be responsive to the needs of their members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their commitment is to provide their members with the latest information and resources available to help them provide care for the patients of rural America. Additionally, NRHA’s advocacy team continues to fight to make sure that members have the resources and abilities needed to control and manage this pandemic. NRHA will continue to:

  1. Provide access to the latest COVID-19 federal information fact sheets, and resources. They have launched a COVID 19 Resource page linked here;
  2. Continue their advocacy fight with the Administration and Congress to ensure rural providers have the resources needed to both provide patient care and protect their workforce. Here is what NRHA is fighting for (also attached via Connect);
  3. Provide an open-forum on NRHA Connect to allow real-time discussions of best practices, open concerns and shared information; and
  4. Be the rural voice. NRHA continues to work with federal leadership, as well as national, state and local media to outline the needs of their members, in this unprecedented time.

NRHA’s online Grassroots Forum has generated quite a bit of feedback on issues relevant theiro you, our members. In summary, the thread included these topics:

  • Section 1135 waiver process
  • Waiver of the 72-hour rule (does it apply to Swing Beds?)
  • Rural Health Clinics (RHC) as an originating site for virtual E&M visits and billing for same?
  • Emergency licensure of physicians and other health care professionals to meet workforce needs for a growing demand for services
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability, stock outs of essential supplies

National Extension System Provides COVID-19 Resources for Ag Community

Before you share information about COVID19, make sure you are getting your information from reliable sources. For information about the disease, symptoms and resources, the best source is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their website is located at  https://

eXtension is providing the Extension Response to COVID19 and Resources for Extension Professionals Working Online. The purpose of this website is to provide a means through which Extension educators and administrators can share with their Cooperative Extension colleagues various resources and guides about teaching and working virtually, and provide a listing of current institutional responses to COVID-19. The current list of resources is just a beginning; it needs your additional contributions and expertise. Visit their website at­edium=email&utm_term=0_ce656dc9a5-0e60f19b34-53497099.

Webinar: What Ag Producers Need to Know about COVID19

Coronavirus has gained attention worldwide as an emerging infectious disease. This webinar is intended to share evidence-based information about COVID19 and to help agricultural producers identify strategies for responding on their farm.  Thursday, April 2nd at 12:00 PM—1:00 PM CDT. Click HERE to register.

Most Aggressive States Against the Coronavirus – WalletHub Study

With states taking actions such as closing bars and restaurants or banning large gatherings to fight the spread of the coronavirus, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on the Most Aggressive States Against the Coronavirus as well as accompanying videos.

To identify which states are taking the largest actions to combat coronavirus, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 35 key metrics. The data set ranges from tested cases of COVID-19 per capita and state legislation on the pandemic to the uninsured population and share of the workforce in affected industries. Below, you can see highlights from WalletHub’s report, along with a Q&A with WalletHub analysts.

States with Most Aggressive Measures

States with Least Aggressive Measures

1. Rhode Island 42. Indiana
2. Connecticut 43. Tennessee
3. Maryland 44. Kansas
4. New York 45. Hawaii
5. Washington 46. Missouri
6. Massachusetts 47. Oklahoma
7. New Jersey 48. Nevada
8. Minnesota 49. Texas
9. Vermont 50. Mississippi
10. District of Columbia 51. Wyoming

Note: Rankings reflect data available as of 5 p.m. ET on March 16, 2020.

To view the full report and your state or the District’s rank, please visit:

Medicare FFS Response to COVID-19

The HHS Secretary declared a public health emergency, which allows for CMS programmatic waivers based on Section 1135 of the Social Security Act. An MLN Matters Special Edition Article SE20011 on Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) Response to the Public Health Emergency on the Coronavirus is available. Learn about blanket waivers issued by CMS. These waivers prevent gaps in access to care for beneficiaries impacted by the emergency.

See the press release outlining our announcement.