4 states get CMS funding to expand telehealth and other services in rural areas

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will fund four states to expand telehealth and other healthcare services in their rural communities.

Four organizations are set to receive grants from CMS to address health disparities in rural areas. The lead organizations will implement the Community Health Access and Rural Transformation Model, which increases regulatory flexibility for rural providers and allows them to use value-based payment models to encourage quality and outcomes over the volume of care.

The organizations, which will oversee the program in their individual states, are the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the South Dakota Department of Social Services, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Washington State Healthcare Authority.

In total, the four states could receive as much as $20 million. Each organization will be awarded $2 million for pre-implementation planning and can receive up to $3 million by completing certain milestones over six performance periods.

"By working to decrease hospital admissions and readmissions for those with chronic conditions, we are investing in the health of rural residents," said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a statement. "Expanding access to healthcare in rural communities is a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. These awards are one step to ensure access to healthcare is equitable and that we are reaching underserved communities.

RELATED: Biden administration to invest $19M to expand telehealth in rural, underserved areas

More than 57 million people in the U.S. live in rural communities, according to CMS, and many are older residents with a greater proportion of health issues than their urban counterparts. But rural residents face distinct challenges to their healthcare, including limited transportation options and a dearth of healthcare services close to them. About 8.6 million people live further than a 30-minute drive from the nearest hospital, according to a New York Times analysis, which can lead people to forego the care they need.

That makes telehealth an enticing option—but much of rural America doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. Rural residents are less likely to have high-speed internet in their homes, which can limit their access to telehealth visits and online healthcare information, according to CMS.

RELATED: CMS looks to permanently expand telehealth services

Last year, the CMS Innovation Center launched the CHART Model, which uses an accountable care organization model to address these disparities.

The four organizations selected to lead the programs in their states will partner with state Medicaid agencies, local health systems and other groups to redesign healthcare delivery in their rural communities.

"This CHART funding will help test whether improving access to telehealth services and access to adequate transportation for those living in rural areas can maintain or improve care quality and lower healthcare costs," said Dawson Smith, vice president for Affiliate Operations and Network Development in the UAB Health System, in a statement by the university. "This is an opportunity for select rural hospitals across Alabama to redesign how care is delivered in rural areas with the ultimate goal of improving access, quality and health outcomes."