June 19, 2009
U.S. health agency to clarify rules for electronic medical records funding
6/19/2009 by Bryan Smith -- eCapitol News ----
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began this week the process of drafting rules aimed at clarifying the meaning of "meaningful use" with respect to federal funds available for electronic health records under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The funds are part of an effort by the administration to push for national adoption and implementation of health information technology, particularly electronic health records as a way to reduce health care costs and streamline the nation's health system, a department release said this week. The stimulus package sets aside $19 billion in funds for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to eligible medical service providers to adopt and implement EHRs.
But, before those funds can be allocated, the department, in conjunction with the Health Information Technology Policy Committee, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, must establish what constitutes the meaningful use of those technologies and goals for implementation.
"We are moving fast to achieve the president's goal to improve the health and well-being of every American through the on-going use of health information technology," stated HHS' National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Blumenthal. "The work of the policy committee is a first step toward assuring that technology - the electronic health record - is used in a meaningful way to provide better patient care."
This week's policy committee meeting laid out the initial goals and framework for implementation of health information technology, with a focus on improving quality, safety and efficiency, while reducing health disparities.
The department will also be accepting public comment from now through June 26. Once the process is complete, the policy committee will advise the office of the national coordinator, which will then promulgate rules
John Calabro, the chief information officer for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said once those rules are established, hopefully by the end of 2009, the states will go to work on rules for incentives under the state Medicaid programs. Because the federal legislation requires that service providers connect to a statewide information exchange, he said that it is possible that implementation may require some legislation.
The entire process will take several years, with the first incentive payments likely being made at some point in 2011, Calabro said. Providers that get in early will receive the largest incentives, in some cases over $40,000 per physician.
But, the bill also comes with significant penalties for Medicaid and Medicare service providers that do not implement medical records programs that meet established criteria.
He also said that for those not implementing electronic medical records by 2016, they will see a 1 percent reduction in Medicare payments. That percent goes up by one percentage point every year, with a 5 percent penalty on payments by 2020.
Calabro said that the authority is working to ensure that everyone's interests are accounted for, such as the state's tribes and people in underserved areas.
During this year's legislative session, lawmakers approved a related bill, SB 757, by Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, and Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.
The bill creates a 10-member Health Infrastructure Advisory Board to advise and assist the Oklahoma Health Care Authority in developing a strategy for the adoption and use of electronic medical records and health information technologies that is consistent with emerging national standards and promotes interoperability of health information systems. It directs OHCA to operate as a hub for health information exchange between health-related state agencies and other health information organizations. It also adds city-county health departments to the list of health entities allowed to receive patient information for the purpose of reducing morbidity or mortality.
During discussion of the bill in the House Public Health Committee, Steele said that the bill was simply intended to evaluate barriers to implementation of EHRs.