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D.C. Report: Incentive Program, Meaningful Use Standards, EHR Education, Illinois Takes Steps to Shed Paper

August 3, 2010
by Sharon Canner
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Incentive Program Focus of E&C Oversight Hearing. Following the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing on the HITECH Act, the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee last Tuesday focused on many of the same themes, including the multicampus issue. Compared to the initial hearing, the response to relaxed deadlines and reduced numbers of objectives was less intense, which may be a reflection of the Committee’s composition and its physician members.

On the issue of penalties, concern was expressed over the penalties that providers could potentially face for not adopting electronic health records (EHRs). Testifying for the Administration were National Coordinator for Health Information Technology David Blumenthal, M.D., and CMS Office of Standards Director Tony Trenkle. Trenkle replied that providers would not be fined until 2015, and the final rule was crafted with exhaustive input from providers. Dr. Blumenthal also assured Committee members that Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) would continuously study provider experiences to make sure that providers can successfully implement the new technologies, and that vendors can continuously introduce new technologies into the marketplace. Trenkle confirmed that a multicampus health system would only be eligible for one payment, but individual doctors in physician practices would be eligible for individual payments if each physician were to demonstrate meaningful use. He also noted that the agency would be open to discussing with the Congress other ways to augment the rule.

Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) expressed strong support for the rule and also related his experience on a recent trip with CHIME members touring Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey to learn about health IT initiatives in his constituency. Monmouth Medical Center also testified. The hearing was later joined by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), who asked witnesses about the role of health IT in improving the quality of public health. Dr. Blumenthal talked about secured information that could be transferred in real time to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enable the Agency to learn about disease trends and potential epidemics. Trenkle added that the health IT infrastructure would support this free flow of data to meet the objectives of health care reform. For hearing testimony, click here.

Meaningful Use Dominates Standards Committee Meeting. Deputy Director of the Office of E-Health Standards and Services/CMS Karen Trudel stated at the meeting on July 28 that Medicare providers will receive payments in May 2011 for becoming meaningful users. Registration for incentive payments will be available after January 1, 2011. While the payment year for physicians starts in January, the payment year for hospitals will not begin until October of 2011. Trudel stated that the CMS and the ONC will ensure that their regional offices and RECs communicate with each other. CMS will set up a help desk to educate concerned providers about the incentive program.

Committee member Judith Faulkner, who is CEO of the Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems Corp., expressed concern that no organization has yet been designated as an official testing and certification body, making it difficult for some hospitals to demonstrate meaningful use throughout the 90-day window. Director of the Office of Standards and Interoperability Doug Fridsma noted that there was uncertainty whether the Department of health and Human Services (HHS) would make the January 1 deadline to have testing and certification designated. Fridsma also spoke of the collaboration between the NHIN Direct team and the “Tiger Team” on developing policy to ensure security, and various pilot projects. The committee was also updated on the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) project, which is expected to help providers to prepare for meeting stage 2 criteria.