7 things to know about telehealth, innovation efforts in HHS rural action plan

HHS on Sept. 3 released the Rural Action Plan, an agencywide assessment of current and upcoming rural healthcare efforts, including increasing technology and innovation via telehealth expansions. 

The report comes after President Donald Trump's Aug. 3 executive order to improve rural health and telehealth access by making certain services permanent once the COVID-19 public emergency ends. The plan has four  focuses: building a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities; using technology and innovation;  preventing disease and mortality; and increasing rural access to care. 

Eighteen HHS agencies and offices collaborated to develop the plan, which includes 71 new or expanded activities for fiscal year 2020 and beyond. 

Seven things to know: 

1. Grants, policy and regulatory efforts and research analyses  will support rural tech and telehealth innovation initiatives. 

2. HHS will launch a  health challenge that uses technology to improve screening and management of postpartum depression for rural women. 

3. To boost telehealth expansion, HHS will provide more than $8 million in grant funding for the Telehealth Network Grant Program, delivering emergency care consults via telehealth to rural providers that lack emergency care specialists. 

4. There will be a focus on establishing new flexibilities for Medicare Advantage plans to improve access to managed care options in rural areas by altering network adequacy assessments for MA plans and considering how telehealth providers can  assist in contracted networks. 

5. In fiscal year 2020, the Health Resources and Services Administration is using about $30 million to expand the use of telehealth services to meet the needs of rural and medically underserved areas, particularly for tele-emergency and tele-behavioral health services. 

6. Trump's fiscal year 2021 budget also aims to expand eligibility to  telehealth sites where the provider sees the patient at a distance more healthcare provider types, including rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers. This would increase telehealth through expanding Medicare's fee-for-service telehealth benefit and remove barriers to telehealth services for providers participating in alternative payment models. 

7. The budget proposal would classify rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers to be distant site providers for Medicare telehealth services and be reimbursed for services at a rate similar to payment for comparable telehealth services under the Medicare physician fee schedule. 

Click here to view the full report. 

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