National Rural Health Day a Success
On November 18, the White House celebrated National Rural Health Day by having President Biden issue a proclamation. Further down Pennsylvania Avenue, Reps. O’Halleran (D-AZ) and Cole (R-OK) introduced H.Res.815, which is a congressional resolution supporting the goals and ideals of National Rural Health Day.  Fifty-two bipartisan members of the House came together to cosponsor this NOSORH sponsored resolution. Also in conjunction with National Rural Health Day was the introduction of the bicameral Rural Health Equity Act. The bills (H.R. 5848/S. 3149), which were introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and endorsed by NOSORH, seek to establish an Office of Rural Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more about the effort in this letter from the Rural Health Action Alliance.

FLEX Authorization Language Set to be Introduced
Before Thanksgiving, an agreement was reached to introduce a comprehensive rural health care bill in the House. The bill, which will be sponsored by Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), is scheduled to be introduced in January when Congress reconvenes to start their second session. Included in the bill is a NOSORH-directed provision that would reauthorize the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Grants Program.  Under the draft language, SORHs would be able to utilize the funds received through grants. Prior to the bill’s introduction, NOSORH will meet with House and Senate offices to promote and raise awareness of the legislation. The draft bill includes a host of other rural health-related provisions.

FY 2022 Appropriations Update
Appropriations talk never sleeps in Washington. Congress has until Friday, December 3, 2021, to either fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2022 or pass a continuing resolution (CR) that would maintain FY 2021 funding. It appears both parties are open to passing a CR through January 28, 2022, at which point FY 22 funding would most likely be addressed. Congressional offices annually begin their FY 2023 appropriations request process in February.

Telehealth Related Bill Introduced
Prior to Thanksgiving, Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced an updated version of the 21st Century Cures Act that Congress originally passed in 2016. The bill is comprehensive and includes provisions removing Medicare geographic and originating site restrictions on telehealth services. Here it is section by section.

HRSA Announces Rural Payment Distribution
On November 23, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) began distribution of the $7.5 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) rural payments to providers who serve rural Medicaid, CHIP, and Medicare beneficiaries. HRSA also announced many ARP rural payment recipients will also be eligible for additional funding through the $17 billion Provider Relief Fund Phase 4. A state-by-state breakdown of ARP rural payments is available here.