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July 13, 2010
TOPEKA The eagerly awaited “meaningful use” rules from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology were released today.
Doctors, hospitals and other medical providers and the technology vendors that market to them have been waiting for the new rules, which are expected to unleash waves of business activity as medical providers position themselves for the federal incentive payments available to those who meet the “meaningful use” standards.
Starting next year, doctors whose patient mix includes at least 30 percent Medicaid beneficiaries are eligible for up to $63,750 over six years, if they meet the standards. Medicare doctors can receive about $44,000. And hospitals could receive up to $2 million a year in incentives.
A draft of the rules was released in late December by ONC. It spelled out 25 measures or objectives doctors would need to meet and 23 for hospitals. The final rules provide more latitude for how providers meet some of those objectives. Technical fact sheets on the rules are available here.
Two final rules were announced today. One was issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, defining minimum standards providers must meet with their electronic health record (EHR) technology. The other, from ONC, spelled out the standards for getting systems certified so that users are eligible for the incentive payments.
The incentive dollars were authorized as part of the 2009 economic stimulus also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The stimulus bill included nearly $20 billion for health information technology initiatives, including the incentive payments to doctors and other providers. The federal government's goal is for every American to have an electronic health record by 2014. Another stimulus initiative called for creation of state or regional health information exchanges intended to facilitate the digital transfer of patient health records and other data from one provider to another regardless where they are in the U.S.
The Kansas Foundation for Medical Care, a non-profit group that focuses on improving health care quality, is overseeing the new extension center created to help doctors and others with the new health information technology. It is one of about 60 approved extension centers across the country that will be the first entities to receive full details of the meangful use regulations and how federal officials expect them to be implemented.
Michael Aldridge, director of the Kansas extension center, said much groundwork has already been laid. An early survey showed about 1,800 Kansas doctors with at least some interest in having their practices comply with the new standards. The center has set the goal of having 1,200 Kansas physicians meet the meaningful use standards within the next two years.
“We are recruiting field staff practice consultants,” Aldridge said. “We're recruiting all across the state.”
Aldridge said the extension center has already hired six field consultants to work with doctors and others and could have as many as 15 once the center is fully staffed.
“The things we will offer will include help with vendor selection and group purchasing discounts,” he said. “We are actively working to select some preferred vendors.”
Aldridge said there already more than 200 vendors in the marketplace but that the center will put together a preferred list of perhaps three or four.
And he said the center will assist any medical provider that asks, not just those in line for ARRA incentive payments.
“Anyone who wants to work with us can,” he said.
The federal stimulus law targets the incentives to primary care providers or various specialists who work in underserved areas.
Because it is a largely rural state, much of Kansas has been federally designated as an underserved area.
Aldridge said federal officials are expected to decide within the next three or four weeks exactly how incentives would apply in underserved areas.
“That could greatly expand the number of (providers) who can receive subsidies,” Aldridge said. “That could be phenomenal for Kansas.”
The Kansas extension center has started a blog called, "Accelerating HIT in Kansas."