Feds OK $1.2B for health IT initiatives

Federal health officials are distributing $1.2 billion in economic stimulus law funding to state agencies and nonprofits to advance adoption of health information technology.

Nearly $1.2 billion in economic stimulus law funds are now available as grants for health information technology, Vice President Joe Biden announced today. About half of the funding will go to establish dozens of regional education centers across the country, and the other half will help state agencies set up health information exchange systems.

Congress approved the funding as part of the economic stimulus law to promote the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems. Lawmakers included $45 billion in incentive payments to doctors' offices and hospitals that buy and meaningfully use digital health records, and $2 billion to promote health information exchange.

The Health and Human Services Department will issue rulemaking later this year to define the terms of certification and meaningful use.

“With electronic health records, we are making health care safer; we’re making it more efficient; we’re making you healthier; and we’re saving money along the way, ” Biden said in a statement today.

Grants totaling $598 million will be used to get 70 Health IT Regional Extension Centers up and running. The centers will give hands-on help to doctors and hospital staff in selecting, acquiring and deploying certified EHR systems.

An additional $564 million in grants is available to states to support the development of mechanisms for sharing of patient medical information within a framework of an “emerging nationwide system of networks,” the statement said.

Both sets of grants will be issued starting in fiscal 2010. The extension program grants will be awarded on a rolling basis: 20 in the first quarter of the fiscal year, 25 in the third quarter, and the remainder in the fourth quarter.

HHS will dedicate $50 million to creating the Health IT Research Centers will help the regional extension center identify and share best practices and collaborate with each other, the statement said.

The centers together will support at least 100,000 primary care providers, through participating nonprofit organizations, in achieving meaningful use of EHRs, the statement said.

The health information exchange grants will be awarded through the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program. States may choose to enter multistate arrangements. State agencies will be required to provide matching funds starting in 2011.

A group sponsored by the National Governors Association recently advised state agencies to begin their planning on health information exchanges, which will be required to achieve meaningful use of digital health records.

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