Here comes the money
Providers should begin to receive EHR incentive funds by end of January
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.