CMS has announced the launch of their first Rural Health Strategy aimed at reducing regulatory burden and improving access to care for rural patients. This strategy is part of a larger framework for CMS, to put patients first and address the deficiencies of care for maternal health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders in rural America.
According to a MedPAC 2012 report, Medicare and the Health Care Delivery System, individuals living in rural America (approximately 60 million) are more likely to live in poverty, be older, unhealthier, uninsured, and medically underserved.
This has ignited action by CMS to work closely with providers and the Rural Health Council to develop a proactive and strategic plan to combat the unintended consequences of federal policy on rural health providers and their patients.
This work has been focused on three strategic areas:
- Ensuring access to high-quality health care to all Americans in rural settings
- Addressing the unique economics of providing healthcare in rural America
- Bringing the rural health care focus to CMS’ health care delivery and payment
What’s the Strategy?
This is an agency-wide attempt at applying a rural lens to all initiatives and efforts under CMS. Implementation and ongoing collaboration will focus on the following objectives and activities:
- Apply a rural lens to CMS programs and policies:
- Integrate a rural health lens into existing and future quality improvement and innovation activities, policies, and procedures
- Improve access to care through provider engagement and support
- Increase the number of trained and licensed health professionals in rural communities
- Align quality measurement activities with other industry measurement initiatives such as National Quality Forum efforts
- Provide technical assistance to providers to help them comply with and implement policies
- Include transportation and telehealth flexibilities in CMS models where appropriate
- Empower patients in rural communities to make decisions about their healthcare
- Collaborate with rural communication networks to disseminate materials to help rural patients navigate the healthcare system
- Leverage partnerships to achieve the goals of the CMS Rural Health Strategy
- Promote interoperability and increase utilization of electronic health records
- Work with federal and state partners to understand and evaluate the impacts of CMS programs on rural communities
This strategy builds on several overarching CMS priorities and is further proof of the agencies’ commitment to combating the nation’s opioid crisis.
CMS has stated they will continue efforts to enhance and enforce measures through partnerships with the ONC, HRSA, and the Rural Health Policy.
Community sentiment appears to be optimistic at this point, if not at least supportive. “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,” said HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D.