The application window is now open for organizations seeking government recognition as testing and certification bodies for electronic health-record systems eligible for reimbursement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
So far, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS has received about 40 inquiries regarding applications and had 14 requests for applications, Carol Bean, director of ONC's certification division, reported to a meeting of the federally chartered Health Information Technology Standards Committee.
"Hopefully, we'll get the applications out tonight," Bean said Wednesday.
ONC officials are confident that multiple organizations will apply for federal authorization, Bean said.
Previously, only the not-for-profit, Chicago-based Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, or CCHIT, was authorized by HHS to certify EHR systems under a federal program granting hospitals waivers of Stark and anti-kickback laws if they subsidized the cost of health IT systems to their affiliated physicians.
The stimulus law gave the ONC the choice to "keep or recognize" a program or programs for EHR certification under the law. The ONC decided not to keep CCHIT as the exclusive HHS-anointed certification organization, leaving it to join the new applicant pool for federal recognition.
In March, the ONC released a proposed rule that called for two HHS processes—one temporary, one permanent—to recognize certification bodies. On June 18, ONC published final rules on the first-round process to name "temporary" testing and certification programs.
Bean said that once an application has been received, ONC has 30 days to decide whether an organization qualifies as an "authorized testing and certification body," or ATCB, under the temporary program.
Final rules on a permanent authorization program have yet to be released. Based on the sense of direction in the rule proposed in March, however, it is expected that the government will craft a permanent process by which EHR testing and certification functions will be separated and performed by different organizations.