Approximately 60 million Americans, or nearly one in five, live in rural areas. People living in rural regions face higher rates of poverty and chronic conditions, and are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured. They also often experience a fragmented health care delivery system with an overworked and shrinking health care workforce, as well as limited access to specialty services.
To ensure these individuals have access to high quality, affordable health care, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Rural Health Council released the agency’s first Rural Health Strategy in May 2018.
By applying a rural lens to new and ongoing activities, the Rural Health Strategy elevates the importance of CMS programs and policies designed to advance the state of rural health care in America. The strategy is intended to inform CMS’s work as it relates to rural health and to contribute to the agency’s overall efforts to reduce provider burden, address the opioid epidemic and improve our nation’s quality of care.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the official announcement, “The Rural Health Strategy supports CMS’s goal of putting patients first. Through its implementation and our continued stakeholder engagement, this strategy will enhance the positive impacts CMS policies have on beneficiaries who live in rural areas.”
The agency-wide strategy is built on input from rural providers and beneficiaries, and focuses on five objectives to achieve the agency’s vision for rural health, including:
- Apply a rural lens to CMS programs and policies
- Improve access to care through provider engagement and support
- Advance telehealth and telemedicine
- Empower patients in rural communities to make decisions about their health care
- Leverage partnerships to achieve goals
Work on the strategy is already underway. For example, CMS is transforming access to telehealth by paying for additional services and making it easier for providers to bill Medicare. CMS will continue to collaborate with agencies across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to implement the strategy.
HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D, said in a statement, “HRSA is excited to see CMS spell out a strategy to better serve rural populations that was informed by rural stakeholders who have a unique lens on the issues in their communities. This builds on our long-standing collaboration with CMS and will highlight key issues for rural safety net providers like rural hospitals and community health centers for CMS and HHS.”