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CMS Strategy to Focus on Rural Healthcare Access, Quality

CMS has announced an agency-wide Rural Health Strategy that will focus on increasing care quality and access for rural populations.

CMS strategy will focus on rural healthcare access and quality

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- CMS has announced a new Rural Health Strategy, which will help ensure that the nearly one in five individuals living in rural areas have access to quality healthcare.

“For the first time, CMS is organizing and focusing our efforts to apply a rural lens to the vision and work of the agency,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

“The Rural Health Strategy supports CMS’ goal of putting patients first. Through its implementation and our continued stakeholder engagement, this strategy will enhance the positive impacts CMS policies have on beneficiaries who live in rural areas.”

The Rural Health Strategy was developed by the CMS Rural Health Council with input from rural providers and beneficiaries.

CMS plans to focus on five core objectives to achieve its vision for better rural health, including improving access to care through provider engagement and advancing the adoption of telehealth and telemedicine.

The agency will also empower patients in rural communities to make decisions about their healthcare by collaborating with rural communication networks and developing easy-to-understand materials.

CMS will work to identify evidence-based practices to improve rural access to care and to avoid any unintended consequences of policy and program implementation in these communities.

CMS plans to leverage partnerships to achieve the goals of the Rural Health Strategy, including working with ONC and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote health IT interoperability and integrate primary and behavioral care.

CMS noted that approximately 60 million people live in rural communities, including millions of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Rural Americans face many obstacles when it comes to healthcare. Individuals living in these areas often have more chronic conditions, experience a fragmented healthcare system with a shrinking workforce, and lack access to services such as mental healthcare.

Patients in rural communities are also often uninsured or underinsured and live in places with disproportionately higher poverty rates.

Telehealth will play a significant role in expanding access to care, CMS says.  CMS will commit to paying for additional services and making it easier for remote care providers to bill Medicare. The organization will also work to diminish cross-state licensure issues and financial and administrative burdens.

To implement the Rural Health Strategy, CMS will continue to collaborate with organizations across the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

“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, PhD.

“This builds on our long-standing collaboration with CMS and will highlight key issues for rural safety net providers like rural hospitals and community health centers for CMS and HHS.”

With the introduction of the Rural Health Strategy, CMS expects to further support healthcare quality and availability in rural communities.

“This Administration clearly understands that one of the keys to ensuring that those who call rural America home are able to achieve their highest level of health is to advance policies and programs that address their unique healthcare needs,” Verma concluded.

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