By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

The Trump administration has taken a series of steps in recent days to address healthcare gaps in rural communities across the country.

President Trump signed an executive order on Aug. 3 that expands telehealth services, deploys “strategic investments in our rural communications infrastructure,” and “requires the Department of Health and Human Services to announce a new payment model testing innovations that empower rural hospitals to transform healthcare in their communities on a broader scale.”

In response this week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the launch of the Community Health Access and Rural Transformation (CHART) model. “CHART will empower rural communities to develop a system of care to deliver high-quality care to their patients by providing support through new seed funding and payment structures, operational and regulatory flexibilities, and technical and learning support,” the agency said of the model.

The administration has created the Community Transformation Track, through which as much as $75 million in funding will be made available to 15 CMS-selected rural communities.

“Through these flexibilities, healthcare providers across the community will be able to pursue care transformation, such as expanding telehealth to allow the beneficiary’s place of residence to be an originating site and waiving certain Medicare hospital conditions of participation to allow a rural outpatient department and emergency room to be paid as if they were classified as a hospital,” the agency explained. “The model also allows participant hospitals to waive cost-sharing for certain Part B services, provide transportation support, and gift cards for chronic disease management.”

CMS plans to begin the selection process in September. The chosen communities will be announced early next year and start participation next summer.

The National Rural Health Association said it “strongly supports” CMS’ experimental initiative. “We believe this step forward comes at a time when it is needed most, as rural health providers have been and continue to be hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group wrote. “However, we also recognize that more work must be done to ensure rural providers are able to fully capitalize on this new and exciting opportunity.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every healthcare facility to innovate and improvise. The American Hospital Association (AHA) Rural Health Services group has collected many stories of how leaders of smaller facilities in less densely populated areas have adjusted. The AHA will host a webinar about the new CHART model on Aug. 18.

Relias Media will cover these topics in more detail in future issues of our diverse collection of hospital publications. Meanwhile, for additional information about telemedicine, check out this new Relias Media webinar.