Attendees of the 2021 AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference kicked off its second day with a virtual series of workshops called Affinity Groups, in which participants discussed issues such as rural community health investment and improvement; strategies for innovation and digital transformation; leadership and resilience; and preventing suicide in rural America. 

Advocacy and Public Policy Update. Tom Nickels, AHA executive vice president, Travis Robey, senior associate director of federal relations, and Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president of payment policy and analysis, discussed the latest from Capitol Hill and the new administration, and what it all means for hospitals and health systems, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis. They also shared what policies Congress is considering and how they may affect rural community hospitals. They provided a federal update on recent regulations impacting critical access hospitals and other rural hospitals. 

For a comprehensive look at AHA’s 2021 rural advocacy priorities, view AHA’s agenda here

In addition, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke to attendees about the critical need to pass additional legislation to offer relief to rural providers and avoid an economic meltdown. Sen. Manchin’s Save Our Rural Health Providers Act, introduced last year, would create a rural set-aside in the Provider Relief Fund. AHA supports Sen. Manchin’s legislative push to include more funding for the PRF with a 20% rural set-aside. The senator discussed the need to protect the 340B drug savings program, expand telehealth and broadband services, raise reimbursement rates for providers performing audio-only telehealth services and increase flexibility for providers. 

“I recognize there’s a long way to go in making telehealth accessible to all Americans, but we must work to close the gaps now to help our fellow Americans in need,” Manchin said. “We’ve seen how successful telehealth can be during this pandemic, and we should not go backward in limiting telehealth. Instead, we should build out our telehealth infrastructure and the needed flexibility for our providers to reach patients.” 

Manchin thanked attendees for all their hard work in the past year, including canceling non-emergent surgeries when needed and continuing to serve hard-to-reach populations in their rural communities. 

“As we see the light at the end of this health crisis, we must continue to work together to pass legislative policies that ensure rural hospitals get their fair share of federal funding,” Manchin said. “And I won’t stop fighting for our rural hospitals.”  

Other conference highlights include discussion around pivoting in a pandemic to using value-based care strategies; the intersection of innovation, artificial intelligence and rural hospitals; effectively integrating mental health into primary care for rural practices; and improving patient care and reducing health disparities through cultural competence, among other topics.

Visit our news webpage for a full recap of Day 1 of conference activities.

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