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D.C. Report: HHS Funding, Tax Extenders Bill, NHIT Week

June 10, 2010
by Sharon Canner
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Sharon Canner, Sr. Director of Advocacy Programs, CHIME

Each week, Healthcare Informatics online brings to you, our readers, a special report from Sharon Canner, Senior Director of Advocacy Programs for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), with responsibility for government affairs. The Washington, D.C.-based Canner currently oversees three groups within the CHIME organization: the Advocacy Leadership Team, the Policy Steering Committee, and CIO StateNet. Advocacy Corner will provide our readers with a brief report on the latest advocacy efforts of the CHIME organization.

Health Centers Receive HHS Funding. As part of its $2 billion program to encourage the adoption of health IT for low-income and uninsured individuals, HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $83.9 million to networks of health centers and other health IT systems. The networks, comprised of at least three collaborating organizations, are community-based groups that support HRSA-funded health centers that provide primary health care to nearly 19 million patients.

A total of forty-five grants will support new and enhanced EHR implementation projects as well as HIT innovation projects. Funds will allow grantees to use EHR technology to improve health care quality, efficiency, and patient safety. Eligible professionals practicing within health centers who are able to demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology may be eligible for incentive payments provided under Medicaid and Medicare. For a list of the grants across 28 states, click here.

Extenders Bill Pending Final Action Affects Payment Fix. Congress departed Washington last week for the Memorial Day recess without final action on the tax “extenders” bill (5/28 Advocacy Corner) that included expiring unemployment benefits, extension of COBRA and delay until 2012 of a 21 percent cut in Medicare physician payments. The House passed legislation (HR 4213) on May 28, leaving further action to the Senate, which, as of the time this report was going to press, had not acted on the issue. However, a separate report by notes that the Senate is expected to pass the extender bill next week, at which point it returns to the House, where lawmakers must approve the Senate changes. Advocacy Week and Healthcare Informatics will continue to keep readers posted on developments in this area. In addition, any change the Senate might make to the legislation would require additional approval by the House.

Under the bill, physician payment rates would increase by 2.2 percent for the rest of 2010 and by 1 percent in 2011, with the rates returning to the current formula in 2012. Meanwhile, CMS has communicated with Medicare contractors, directing them to delay processing medical claims for 10 business days to allow time for Congressional action.

CIOs Have Prominent Role in NHIT Week. Initially established to advocate for health IT funding, National Health IT Week (June 14-18) has become a vehicle both to showcase the accomplishments of the industry and to advocate for certain tweaks to the new program. CHIME, a participating partner for the past three years, has expanded activities beginning with Monday, June 14 for a tour of the George Washington University Hospital hosted by CIO and Director of Information Technology Gretchen Tegethoff. Conducted in partnership with the HIMSS Federal Health Community, attendees from various Federal agencies will learn first hand about the hospital’s electronic health record implementation.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA-18), co-chair of the 21st Century Healthcare Caucus, hosts a Capitol Hill press conference on Tuesday, joined by other House and Senate members and industry leaders, including CHIME ALT Chair David Muntz, Senior VP and CIO at Baylor Health Care System. Dr. Farzad Mostashari, Deputy for ONC, kicks off the first in-person meeting of StateNet on June 16. His dialog with CIOs will focus on ONC’s State-level agenda and StateNet recently identified priority issues for HIE development. AHA collaboration and updates on pending final rules are also on the agenda. Concluding the day is a HIMSS Policy Summit reception co-sponsored by CHIME, which provides the venue for presentation of the CHIME 2010 State Advocacy Award. CHIME is among other non-profits, and IT corporations sponsoring information booths at the day-long Capitol Hill Technology Showcase on June 17, which yearly draws 350-400 attendees from government, industry, and academia and includes remarks by Members of Congress and a luncheon program. The 2010 panel with a theme of “Rural and Underserved Communities” features Chuck McDevitt, CIO at Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, SC, among other speakers. For details on all NHIT Week activities, which includes HIMSS-arranged Capitol Hill meetings and other organization events, see this link.