Here comes the money

Providers should be­gin to re­ceive EHR in­cen­tive funds by end of Jan­uary

Modern Healthcare - - The Week In Healthcare - Joseph Conn, Jes­sica Zig­mond and Paul Barr

The first fed­eral dol­lars for elec­tronic health records un­der the 2009 stim­u­lus law are set to flow in a mat­ter of weeks, and of­fi­cials in charge of im­ple­ment­ing the pro­gram are sig­nal­ing re­wards and chal­lenges ahead.

Hos­pi­tals and other providers in Iowa, Ken­tucky, Louisiana and Ok­la­homa could have Med­i­caid in­cen­tive pay­ments for the pur­chase and use of EHR sys­tems in their hands by the end of Jan­uary, said Jes­sica Kahn, tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for health in­for­ma­tion technology at the CMS, dur­ing a two-day meet­ing hosted last week by the Of­fice of the Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tor for Health In­for­ma­tion Technology.

The event was or­ga­nized to of­fer an update on the sta­tus of the many fed­eral IT booster pro­grams un­der the Amer­i­can Re­cov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act of 2009.

“There are two, maybe three more (states) that are teed up to start in Fe­bru­ary or March,” Kahn said. “We have re­ally been cir­cum­spect about this and not telling ev­ery­one what states are plan­ning to launch be­cause we felt that it was the states’ sto­ries to tell, and there are a lot of things that can go into this for­mula that can change at any moment, but the gig’s up,” Kahn said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mis­sis­sippi, Alaska, North Carolina, South Carolina Michi­gan, Ten­nessee and Texas are ready to launch reg­is­tra­tion for their pro­grams in Jan­uary, Kahn said.

“You know, we joke we should be like Ed McMahon show­ing up with the check and the bal­loons at the front door and hav­ing our photo-op moment,” she said. “It will be all elec­tronic trans­fer of funds, but we’ll cre­ate a check. We’ll make up a check and we’ll stand there and we’ll get good press for this be­cause this is im­por­tant.”

HHS Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius, mean­while, said the new year “will be­gin a whole new chap­ter in health in­for­ma­tion technology,” in her re­marks to as­sem­bled health IT pro­fes­sion­als rep­re­sent­ing re­cip­i­ents of grants dis­trib­uted un­der the stim­u­lus law.

Se­be­lius said the ef­fec­tive use of health IT is cru­cial to the suc­cess of the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act. “Be­yond the work done in the in­surance mar­ket, there is im­por­tant work to be done to move Amer­ica to a 21st-cen­tury health-de­liv­ery sys­tem,” Se­be­lius said. “There is no high-qual­ity, low-cost sys­tem that doesn’t use elec­tronic health records.”

ONC head David Blu­men­thal, who in­tro­duced Se­be­lius, pro­moted the im­por­tance his of­fice’s work set­ting cri­te­ria for mean­ing­ful use of health IT that providers must meet in or­der to qual­ify for the sub­si­dies. “No other coun­try has gone to the trou­ble of lay­ing out what we wanted,” he said. “We wanted that process,” he added. “It has been greeted with gen­eral ac­cep­tance.”

Thomas Frieden, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, in his re­marks, said EHR sys­tems can be key tools within the six ar­eas tar­geted by the CDC for im­prov­ing the health sta­tus of Amer­i­cans: food, health­care-as­so­ci­ated in­fec­tions, HIV, mo­tor ve­hi­cle in­juries, teen health and to­bacco con­trol.

For ex­am­ple, Frieden said, EHR sys­tems can al­low pa­tients and doc­tors to bet­ter know when and how much care is needed, us­ing things such as e-mail re­minders. He urged the au­di­ence to in­volve pub­lic health of­fi­cials in the devel­op­ment and use of EHRs.

“If we want peo­ple to do things, we should make it eas­ier,” but that’s not how the health­care sys­tem works, he said.

Se­be­lius: Ef­fec­tive use of health­care is crit­i­cal to re­form law.

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