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How CMS Is Addressing Rural Population Health


On National Rural Health Day, the agency provided a recap of its initiatives to improve access to care in rural areas.


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is focused on improving rural health with multiple initiatives for patients and physicians in these areas.

Rural communities face barriers including higher rates of poverty, difficulty accessing a hospital or doctor’s office and lack of access to resources and innovations, CMS Administrator Seema Verma, MPH, wrote in a blog post.

Patients in this community also have higher rates of preventable deaths than those in urban populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, 57% of deaths due to chronic respiratory disease in rural areas were preventable, compared with 13% for patients with the same condition in urban areas.

Due to the risks rural populations face, CMS has rolled out its Patients over Paperwork and Rethinking Rural Health initiatives.

Patients over Paperwork aims to reduce burden for providers in rural areas by engaging with clinicians and beneficiaries. Rural facilities could save around $100 million and 950,000 hours between 2018 and 2021, Verma claimed.

The agency’s Rethinking Rural Health strategy seeks to improve access to care through provider engagement and support and expanded access to innovative technologies to empower rural patients to make healthcare decisions and have better outcomes, wrote Verma.

CMS expanded the availability of telehealth and technology-based services in 2019, which could be beneficial for patients in rural areas where location can be a barrier to access healthcare needs.

Along with trying to increase access to services for patients in rural populations, the agency is working to increase the wage index for certain low-wage index hospitals, including rural hospitals. Doing this could improve rural patients’ access to necessary care, Verma wrote.

With the wage index increased, hospitals in rural areas could attract and maintain better employees and lead to more care options for patients.

CMS also released a brief called “Improving Access to Maternal Healthcare in Rural Communities,” to highlight programs and efforts CMS is deploying to address the needs of this population.

“As we mark another National Rural Health Day, I view the progress we have made with optimism, but also acknowledge there is more to be done,” Verma wrote. “CMS will persevere in our commitment to providing rural Americans with the tailored opportunities necessary to deliver the high-quality healthcare they deserve.”

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