By: Alex Sange, Public Policy Associate
After more than a year of meetings, the Negotiated Rule Making (NRM) process to develop new methodologies for designations of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) and Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUAs/Ps) came to a close last month – without reaching the desired full consensus on proposed new methodologies for both HPSA and MUA/P designations. These designations are intended to measure the degree to which a community is medically underserved (not enough providers to serve the population) and used to determine a community, area or facility’s eligibility for federal programs including the National Health Service Corps. The methodology has not been updated in decades and as required under the Affordable Care Act, a committee of 26 members including representatives from the health center community has convened since last September with the goal of identifying, and reaching consensus on, a new process to designating HPSAs and MUA/MUPs. If the group reached consensus (defined in this process as a unanimous vote), their recommendations to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about updating the designation process would be binding; without consensus, the Secretary may use the committee’s report for guidance in developing a new rule but it is nonbinding.
The final report was approved by the Committee with 2 dissenting votes out of 26 (5 members not present). Despite total unanimity, the group did reach agreement on a number of fronts and they have urged the Secretary to seriously consider each of their recommendations. We expect to see a rule published from HHS late next spring or early summer (2012). A summary of the Committee’s recommendations to the Secretary is here. Additional information on the Committee’s process and product is here.