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D.C. Report: ONC Program Funding, Spending Reduction Bill

January 31, 2011
by Sharon Canner
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Funding Added to ONC Programs. Earlier this week, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) announced the addition of $80 million to that already awarded to regional extension centers (RECs), health information exchange (HIE) and community college workforce programs. ONC has allocated $32 million for the RECs to assist small physician practices and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to adopt electronic health records (EHRs). To encourage breakthroughs in nationwide health information exchange, HIEs can apply for Challenge Grants of between $1 million and $2 million (total of $16 million) for innovations to improve care transitions and enhanced querying for patient care. On growing the HIT workforce, ONC added $32 million to earlier funding of $36 million for the Community College Consortia, which comprises five regional groups of more than 70 member community colleges in all 50 states. These community colleges are focused on developing non-degree health IT training programs that students can complete in six months or less. Assuring that funding expeditiously reaches these key areas is critically important for the support and success of the EHR Medicare and Medicaid Incentive Program and a signal to Congress of the Administration’s judicious management of this effort.

Spending Reduction Bill Introduced in the House. In carrying out campaign pledges to “take back” unspent stimulus funds, Rep. Jordan (R-OH-4) along with 174 co-sponsors (all Republican) this week introduced “The Spending Reduction Act of 2011” (HR 408) that would reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion through FY 2021. The Medicare/Medicaid meaningful use incentive programs authorized under the stimulus law would seemingly be repealed should this bill win passage. Putting this bill into context, however, it is important to recognize that Rep. Jordan is the Chair of the Republican Study Group, one of many partisan interest groups in the House. Importantly, the bill is not sponsored by the Republican leadership. In the event the bill is voted out of committee(s) and comes to the floor, it is likely that a number of Republican supporters of health IT would rise to raise questions about its impact on patient care. Should the House pass the bill, Senate consideration is very unlikely. Additional efforts to target unspent funds are anticipated and CHIME will continue to report developments and educate Members on Capitol Hill.