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IT in the fast lane

Federal programs continue to drive adoption


By Joseph Conn
Posted: December 15, 2012 - 12:01 am ET
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It's been a breathtakingly busy year in health information technology, with a slew of federal programs firing on all cylinders, but the healthcare industry will have to drive even faster to meet a goal first set by President George W. Bush in 2004 and reiterated by President Barack Obama in 2009, that most Americans should have access to an electronic health record by 2014.

Most of the impetus came from a handful of programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, including workforce development, a national health IT extension service and—most significantly, in terms of dollars and organizations impacted—EHR incentive payment programs, administered by the CMS under Medicare and Medicaid.

Through November, according to data from the CMS and HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the number of hospitals and eligible professionals (roughly 83% of whom are physicians) that have been paid since the federal EHR incentive payment programs began doling out cash in early 2011 has skyrocketed.

Comparing last year with this year, the total payments have nearly quadrupled, from $2.5 billion to $9.25 billion; the number of hospitals paid has more than doubled, from 1,658 hospitals to 3,750; and the ranks of eligible professionals with incentive payment has swelled from 29,344 to 173,350, according to the CMS and ONC. Even so, while the 2012 numbers for EHR incentive recipients represent about three out of four eligible hospitals, they account for only one in three eligible professionals, according to CMS data.

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Federal officials have recently estimated that the EHR incentive payment program would pay out $22.5 billion, down from initial estimates of $27 billion, as the program starts to wind down. For example, fiscal year 2013 will be the final year hospitals can start and still receive all four years of payments under both Medicare and Medicaid versions of the program. In 2013, physicians who begin under the Medicaid program will still be eligible for full payment of $63,750, while under Medicare, full payment will net them only $39,000, not the full $44,000 paid to qualifiers in 2011 and 2012.

Despite the headlong surge in EHR adoption and use—actually, in part because of it—the CMS, hearing groans from providers that their health IT workloads were full, pushed back by one year its compliance deadline with a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mandate to convert the country to use of the International Classification of Diseases 10th Revision of diagnostic and procedural codes.

In workforce development, meanwhile, by the end of 2012, 14,400 students had graduated and another 3,080 were still enrolled in six-month, federally funded healthcare information technology training programs at 79 community colleges across the country, according to the ONC.


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