Comms, health tech make contract news

A $200 million communications contract and as much as $23 billion in health IT work in the coming decade have been making headlines.

A $200 million communications win half a world away and as much as $23 billion in health care-related technology as long as a decade away made headlines in recent weeks.

SRA International Inc. is already more than a month into a $200 million contract award from the Defense Department to provide communications and other services to the U.S. European and African commands. Activated in October 2008 in Stuttgart, Germany, Africom handles military relations with 53 African countries. SRA will provide the commands with communications devices, hardware, software, and network information technology and communications support services for five years.

Robust health IT

Affiliated Computer Services Inc. was among last month’s winners of health IT-related awards with a $21 million, 18-month contract to supply call center, claims processing and pharmacy benefits management services for Hawaii’s medical assistance programs.

That’s just a sliver of ACS’ work in health IT, said Joseph Doherty, executive vice president and group president of ACS Government Solutions. The company has 15,000 employees working with 4,000 customers in every area of commercial and government health care, Doherty said. “Our value is that we can provide an understanding across the entire continuum of health care — from pharmaceutical companies to private and state, local and federal government programs. Our customers expect our subject-matter experts to be able to do that across the whole health IT ecosystem.”

SRA won a $21 million, three-year award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the National Center for Public Health Informatics enhance the availability of health data and encourage the public health community to adopt standards for handling that information. The contract is a new one for SRA, although the company supports other CDC informatics projects, including BioSense, the BioIntelligence Center and the system for reporting adverse vaccine reactions.

However, the new effort is on hold until a protest of the award by incumbent BearingPoint Inc. is resolved. Company officials believe the criteria CDC used to evaluate bids differed from those in its original request, a BearingPoint spokesman said.

The ability to integrate data from multiple databases is likely to remain of keen interest to the agency no matter how the protest is resolved. For example, a report by the Government Accountability Office released in April 2008 criticized CDC, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Health and Human Services Department for the lack of consistency and compatibility in data collected on hospital-acquired infections. A CDC study in 2002 reported that such infections annually kill 100,000 U.S. patients and cost more than $20 billion.

Health IT will likely be getting even more attention in the coming years because the economic stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, includes substantial support for electronic health records. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which is part of the stimulus legislation, calls for establishing EHRs for all Americans by 2014.

The stimulus act allocates as much as $2 billion for HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). In addition, the legislation calls for spending to begin this year with $438 million and peak at $14.2 billion in 2014. The balance then swings to savings, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

ONC will coordinate policy and programs and lead a committee that will recommend a health IT infrastructure and develop standards for technology, harmonizing records from multiple sources and other issues, such as protecting the privacy of those records.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare IT has already adjusted its plan for expanding the certification of health IT products to align with the stimulus law's requirements.

Other recent health IT contract winners include CGI Federal, which won a $25 million contract from CMS to continue work on a system to track Medicare appeals, and Vangent Inc., which won a $14.1 million award to improve the collection of traumatic brain injury and associated behavioral health data for DOD’s Military Health System.

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