HHS Releases Action Plan to Strengthen Rural Health Care

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released its Rural Action Plan to strengthen and transform health care in rural America. It is the first HHS-wide assessment of rural health care in 18 years and the product of the HHS Rural Task Force, formed in 2019.

In addition, HHS announced a partnership with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address gaps in broadband service in rural areas.

The new 70-page Rural Action Plan outlines projects across HHS, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Actions listed in the plan include:

  • funding the Integrated Community Care project to connect health centers with rural hospitals to coordinate preventative, primary, and emergency care
  • providing more than $8 million in funding for the Telehealth Network Grant Program to deliver emergency care consultations via telehealth to rural providers
  • creating the Healthy Rural Hometown Initiative, which will identify strategies to address rural disparities related to the five leading causes of avoidable death, including stroke, heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and injury/substance abuse
  • investing more than $2 million in additional funding for rural cancer control grants, with an emphasis on geographically underserved areas with deep or persistent poverty
  • increasing rural access to care through investments in recruiting and training EMS personnel, as well as examining workforce shortages
  • expanding CMS wage index reform to increase payment to hospitals in low-wage areas, as well as creating new methods of Medicare reimbursement for remote patient care

“We cannot just tinker around the edges of a rural healthcare system that has struggled for too long, which is why the Rural Action Plan lays out a bold vision for transforming how health care works in rural America,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement.

Sources: HHS news release, September 3, 2020; Kaiser Health News, September 4, 2020.