New Guide Brings Clarity to the Complexities of Funding Assistive Technology

As Vernon saw it, a Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) loan was the clear choice to pay for his new hearing aids, with a low interest rate, no fees, and affordable monthly payments. But sometimes finding the right funding isn’t so straightforward.

In 2018, when Vernon’s hearing had declined enough that he was missing large chunks of conversation due to background noise at work and at home, he knew he needed new hearing aids. Vernon has worked in upper management for York Water Company for 21 years. After speaking with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Vernon was referred to PATF. He found the PATF interest rate was significantly lower than that of a traditional consumer loan and it was cheaper than charging the hearing aids on his credit card. He also described the monthly payments as very manageable. In Vernon’s case, with few other funding options for hearing aids, a low-interest loan made the most sense. Now, Vernon is grateful to have his hearing aids, and says that they have significantly improved his quality of life and made a drastic difference for him both at work and in his personal relationships.

But finding funding is not always so simple. In fact, one of the leading obstacles for many people in obtaining assistive technology (AT) is finding the money to pay for it. And, there are many factors to take into account when developing a funding solution. A person’s diagnosis, age, whether or not they are a student, where they live, whether or not they work, their financial situation, and their wants and needs all come into play when determining what funding options are available.

While PATF provides loans for the purchase of AT to Pennsylvanians of all ages, all income levels, and all disabilities and health conditions, we also provide free information and assistance services with the goal of helping people navigate the complex process of finding funding. Our recent publication, Funding Your Assistive Technology: A Guide to Funding Resources in Pennsylvania, includes the information we cover most frequently with callers. Chapters include topics such as what is assistive technology, tips and considerations when choosing your AT, how to develop a funding strategy, a list of funding resources, specifics on how to access AT through waivers including Community HealthChoices, and how to save safely for assistive technology using an ABLE account and a Special Needs Trust.

“This comprehensive guide is an easy-to-use resource for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, seniors, their families, service providers, and legislators. It empowers Pennsylvanians with the knowledge to gain access to devices and services that make independence and autonomy possible,” says Nancy Murray, President of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA and incoming Board President at PATF.

Read more about Funding Your Assistive Technology.

SIM Initiative Evaluation: Model Test Year Five Annual Report

SIM Initiative Evaluation: Model Test Year Five Annual Report. In December 2018, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation released its fifth annual report on Round 1 of the CMS State Innovation Models (SIM) Initiative, which tests the ability of the governments in six states (Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Vermont) to move providers to value-based payment. A number of these states had activities involving rural providers, including RHCs, FQHCs, and CAHs. As a key finding, states used SIM awards to provide resources to providers to enable provider participation in Medicaid alternative payment models. While most state-led models supported through SIM did not realize Medicaid savings, many results were promising considering the limited provider incentives. A 2017 guide from Rural Health Value highlights the rural focus within select SIM awards from Rounds 1 and 2.

CMS Releases Care Coordination Toolkit and Series of ACO Case Studies

CMS releases Care Coordination Toolkit and series of ACO Case Studies. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released a public Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Care Coordination Toolkit highlighting innovative strategies that ACOs and End-Stage Renal Disease Care (ESRD) Seamless Care Organizations (ESCOs) use to collaborate with beneficiaries, clinicians, and post-acute care partners to ensure high-quality, effective care is provided at the right time and in the right setting. CMS has also released seven case studies to describe innovative initiatives from ACOs and ESRD ESCOs on a variety of topics including engaging beneficiaries, coordinating care in rural settings, and promoting health literacy. Each case study includes detailed results and lessons learned.

Report Describes Disparities in Death By Rurality, Race, and Ethnicity

Dying Too Soon: Disparities in Death By Rurality, Race, and Ethnicity.  A recently released brief by the Rural Health Research Gateway finds rural counties had higher rates of premature death (defined as years of potential life lost before age 75) than urban counties.  Researchers analyzed data from the 2017 County Health Rankings, and found that counties with a majority of residents identifying as non-Hispanic Black or American Indian/Alaska Native had significantly higher rates of premature death.

Increasing Number of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Increasing Number of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.  An analysis from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that, in 2016, there were over 7.2 million grandparents nationwide living with grandchildren under the age of 18.  Reports from media outlets and nonprofit organizations suggested that a recent rise in these arrangements is due in part to the opioid crisis.  To get an accurate and better understanding of what is happening, the Census Bureau examined data from its American Community Survey and data on opioid prescribing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Previous research focused on the national or state level, but levels of opioid prescriptions vary widely within states, and county level data allow for a more localized analysis.  Data analysis showed a rural-urban divide in grandparents caring for grandchildren that is similar to the higher rates of overdose deaths in rural areas.  In 2016, 32 percent of grandparents were responsible for grandchildren in urban areas, compared to 46 percent of grandparents in rural areas.  The Census Bureau created an overview of their analysis, with methods, maps and data.  See frequently asked questions answered by the Administration for Children and Families on this topic and the Funding Opportunities section below for related resources.

Podcasts: Rural Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and its Prevalence in Rural America

The National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center) has partnered with Dr. Bill Auxier of Rural Health Leadership Radio to produce a six-part podcast series about Rural Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and its prevalence in rural America. This series from The Center provides information about COPD, how rural providers are meeting the needs of their communities, and the importance of billing and coding appropriately while ensuring quality of care is being addressed. Each podcast features a guest with expert knowledge in COPD and rural health.

Available now: Episode 1 featuring Grace Anne Dorney Koppel
Listen here: http://ruralcenter.libsyn.com/the-rural-copd-podcast

  • Grace Anne Dorney Koppel is President of the Dorney Koppel Foundation, the immediate former President and a current board member of the COPD Foundation, and chair of the Advocacy and Public Policy Committee for the COPD Foundation. Grace Anne is also a patient of COPD, diagnosed in 2001.
  • Grace Anne explains COPD’s prevalence, its symptoms, the stigma surrounding the disease, her personal experiences with COPD, the challenges of COPD treatment in rural communities, her work with the Dorney Koppel Foundation, and the path to success with COPD.

Coming soon: Episode 2 featuring Paul Moore

  • Paul Moore is a Senior Health Policy Advisory for the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) and Executive Secretary for the National Advisory Committee for Rural Health and Human Services.

This project is/was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UB1RH24206, Information Services to Rural Hospital Flexibility Program Grantees, $1,100,000 (0% financed with nongovernmental sources). This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

2018 County Population Estimates Released

The U.S. Census Bureau has released estimates of the total population of counties in the nation and Pennsylvania as of July 1, 2018. The estimates show that the Southeast and South Central regions of Pennsylvania continue their growth since 2010 with Cumberland County in the lead as the fastest growing county. Click here to read the Penn State Data Center brief.

Enhancements to the CMS Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) Tool

The Mapping Medicare Disparities (MMD) tool provides interactive maps to illustrate disparities between subgroups of beneficiaries on key measures of health outcomes, use, and spending.  CMS recently added rural and urban data to the population view, so users can view and compare across rural and urban counties. They also added four opioid use disorder indicators, including hospital and ER visits and medication-assisted therapy utilization.

Additional Telehealth Benefits for Medicare Advantage Finalized

To implement provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, CMS has finalized provisions allowing Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to offer additional telehealth benefits as part of the basic benefits.  While Medicare Advantage plans have always been able to offer more telehealth benefits than traditional Medicare, this rule gives MA plans even more flexibility with paying for these services, which could expand telehealth further.  For example, enrollees in urban and rural areas may be able to receive telehealth from their homes. In 2017, about one in four rural Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in an MA plan.