The following update was provided for our members by Hall Render, NOSORH Legislative Liaison:

SORH Reauthorization Bill Introduced in House

On April 26th, House Energy and Commerce members Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced the State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act of 2018, H.R. 5641.  The bill is the companion bill to S. 2278, which was passed in March by the Senate Health Committee.  The bill seeks to reauthorize the State Offices of Rural Health grant program for the first time since the early 1990s, and would increase funding for the program. Since 2016, Hall Render has worked with NOSORH leadership and Congress to reauthorize the States Offices of Rural Health program.

The Senate bill, which was introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), has been cleared for full Senate passage.  The next step for the House measure will be a mark-up before the Energy and Commerce Committee.  Please contact members of your congressional delegation and urge them to cosponsor this important measure.

CMS Issues Strategy for Rural Health

ON May 8th, CMS released its first Rural Health Strategy, which resulted from a series of listening sessions with rural stakeholders.  With the goal of ensuring rural Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care, the strategy focuses on five goals:  advance telehealth services, apply a “rural lens” to agency policies, improve access to care, empower rural patients to make decisions about their healthcare, and leverage partnerships to achieve these objectives.

Series of Telehealth Bills Introduced in the Senate

During the week of May 21st, a series of bills were introduced aimed at increasing access to telemedicine-based treatment for substance abuse disorders.  One bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), S. 2901, would ease the originating site restrictions on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth treatment.  Another measure, S. 2910 introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), is intended to evaluate access to services and treatment for substance use disorders and to telehealth services and remote patient monitoring for pediatric populations under Medicaid.

Another measure directs the HHS secretary to clarify how Medicaid funds can be used for virtual substance abuse treatment.  A fourth bill, S. 2912 introduced by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) directs the HHS secretary to publish data about the population of Medicaid patients with substance abuse disorders, and on the availability of treatment under Medicaid.

Senate Health Committee Advances Public Health Measures

On May 23rd, the Senate Health Committee voted to advance legislation reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPA), S. 2852. The Senate hopes to reauthorize the bill before programs expire at the end of September.  PAHPA seeks to provide the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) additional flexibility to prepare for pandemic influenza, antimicrobial resistance, and other significant threats. BARDA would also reauthorize the Hospital Preparedness Program, increasing annual funding by 2.7 percent to $385 million between 2019 and 2023.  Hospital groups had urged the committee to increase funding to $515 million annually.


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