According to CMS estimates, nearly one in five people in the United States call a rural community home. And so it should come as no surprise that the agency recently announced a new rural health strategy aimed at ensuring that those 60 million individuals have the same access to affordable, high-quality health care as the rest of America.
According to a May 8 press release,(www.cms.gov) more rural Americans than their urban and suburban counterparts live in poverty, have chronic health conditions, are uninsured or underinsured, experience a shrinking health care workforce, and lack access to health care specialists.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in the press release that for the first time, CMS was "focusing our efforts to apply a rural lens to the vision and work of the agency," with the launch of the agency's new rural health strategy.(www.cms.gov)
As pointed out by a CMS fact sheet,(www.cms.gov) the new strategy was created by the agency's Rural Health Council(www.cms.gov) -- a panel of experts brought together in 2016 to explore barriers to care for this population.
In turn, that council held 14 listening sessions with rural physicians and other health care professionals, consumers and additional stakeholders in an effort to gather "real-world evidence" about the challenges and local solutions linked to the provision of high-quality health care in rural America.
CMS' rural health strategy outlines five specific objectives that aim to achieve equitable rural health by
- employing a rural lens to CMS programs and policies so the needs of rural populations can be met and unintended consequences can be avoided;
- improving access to care by supporting physicians and other clinicians on several fronts, including maximizing scope of practice, providing technical assistance to facilitate physicians' participation in CMS programs and overcoming patient barriers such as lack of transportation;
- promoting telehealth and telemedicine by reducing the barriers of reimbursement, cross-state licensure, and administrative and financial implementation burdens;
- empowering patients to engage in their health care by creating better access to tools and patient-friendly health education materials, and supporting health information technology and infrastructure development; and
- leveraging partnerships to achieve the goals of CMS' rural health strategy.
To accomplish the last objective, CMS will work with the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT to promote interoperability, engage with federal and state partners to evaluate the impact of CMS programs on rural communities, and confer with payers to discuss barriers and strategies to improve participation in rural areas.
The agency also intends to collaborate with the CDC to expand the focus on maternal health, behavioral health, substance abuse, and the integration of behavioral health and primary care.
CMS will also work with Medicaid and other state partners to explore rural health strategies for Medicaid-eligible patients, including those with disabilities, dual-eligible beneficiaries and those with substance abuse disorders.
The rural health strategy will be implemented with ongoing assistance from the Health Resources and Services Administration's Federal Office of Rural Health Policy.
CMS Rural Health(www.cms.gov)