Stimulus stokes $23B in health IT opportunities

Health IT programs at the state and local level are booming thanks to the economic stimulus law, which funded nearly $23 billion for electronic health records and health information exchanges during the next six years.

“These are very large, very complex implementations, and they take a lot of effort on the state side and the vendor side to coordinate all the testing and all the integration that has to happen when those systems are implemented,” Anderson said. “Many of the states don’t have the bandwidth to manage all of that, and so they are now looking to bring on outside firms that can help with the project management and oversight need to keep tabs on the implementation and ensure it stays on track.”

National health care reform might take some time to implement, but health information technology initiatives have been at full steam ahead since the 2009 economic stimulus law set aside nearly $23 billion to advance the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs) duing the next six years. That money includes a jump-start of $1.3 billion in 2010.

Although much of that funding comes in the form of grants to pay for EHR systems at the provider level, some of it is earmarked for provider connectivity to health information exchanges and regional extension centers that will work with providers to enhance the use of IT in the submission of claims.

All of those components will need to be adopted and work together if health IT is going to deliver on its promise of cutting costs, increasing efficiencies and improving health outcomes, and that’s where integration services will be most needed, said Mark Boxer, group president of Government Healthcare Solutions for Affiliated Computer Services, a Xerox company.

“States are really putting their efforts and money into the data aggregation efforts and then building the pipes, or the HIEs, that are necessary to move the data to where it’s needed, when it’s needed,” Boxer said. “So they’ll need integrators to help put their plans together and manage those plans, while at the same time needing other integrators to build and deploy the data aggregation and HIE structures, as well help the providers with their implementation efforts.”

The health IT movement is also inspiring a number of Medicaid agencies to modernize their Medicaid management information systems (MMIS), which will enable them to develop and share patient health summaries with providers through HIEs and integrate with e-prescribing, eligibility management and population management systems.

At the same time, some agencies are moving forward with MMIS modernization because they fear that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will discontinue its matching funds initiative — it pays for 90 percent of MMIS enhancement efforts — said Rishi Sood, vice president of research at Gartner Inc. He said he believes that seven to 10 states will put out requests for proposals for modernized MMIS systems during the next 18 months.

Barbara Anderson, vice president of state and local health and human services at HP Enterprise Services, said the company is preparing for nine states to bid recompetes of existing MMIS operational contracts by the end of 2010 and another four or five that will put out contracts for cross-agency eligibility systems that cover Medicaid and other human services programs.

All that activity, coupled with concern over the budget and schedule overruns and outright failures of several high-profile MMIS modernization projects, is creating a new oversight role for integrators in this area, she said.