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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration

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Federal Office of Rural Health Policy

The Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) coordinates activities related to rural health care within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), ORHP has department-wide responsibility for analyzing the possible effects of policy on 62 million residents of rural communities.  Created by Section 711 of the Social Security Act, ORHP advises the Secretary on health issues within these communities, including the effects of Medicare and Medicaid on rural citizens’ access to care, the viability of rural hospitals, and the availability of physicians and other health professionals.

ORHP administers grant programs designed to build health care capacity at both the local and State levels. These grants provide funds to 50 State Offices of Rural Health (SORH) to support on-going improvements in care, and to rural hospitals through the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant (Flex). Through its community-based programs, ORHP encourages network development among rural health care providers; upgrades in emergency medical services; and places and trains people in the use of automatic external defibrillators. ORHP also oversees the Black Lung Clinics grant program and the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education grant program. While these efforts are not solely focused on rural health issues, many of the populations affected reside in rural areas.

Rural Health Policy Grants

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a strong commitment to rural health. For more than 20 years, HHS has had an Office of Rural Health Policy in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to focus on key rural health policy issues and administer targeted rural grant programs. In FY 2009, HRSA invested $168 million to improve health care in rural America, where access to medical services is often limited. HRSA’s rural health grant programs help fund rural hospitals, health centers and local clinics. 

Policy & Research

ORHP has department-wide responsibility for analyzing the possible effects of policy on 62 million residents of rural communities. Created by Section 711 of the Social Security Act, ORHP advises the Secretary on health issues within these communities, including the effects of Medicare and Medicaid on rural citizens’ access to care, the viability of rural hospitals, and the availability of physicians and other health professionals. ORHP analyzes the effects of current policies and proposed statutory, regulatory, administrative, and budgetary changes on rural communities. Because many of the policy levers at the Federal level are related to the Medicare program, review and analysis of prospective changes to Medicare comprise much of the ORHP’s policy work. Significant time and attention also are devoted to other policy areas, including Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), workforce, quality, and health information technology (HIT). 

Did You Know?
  • About one third of rural dwellers lose all of their teeth by age 65 for lack of dental services and fluoridation.
  • Some 2,000 rural communities have only one pharmacist, who often is the only local health care provider.
  • Rural residents experience greater rates of chronic disease than any other segment of the U.S. population.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities comprise 15 percent of the total rural population and 30 percent of the rural poor population.