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Key part of EHR incentive program halted due to government shutdown

By Joseph Conn
Posted: October 1, 2013 - 2:45 pm ET

A key function of the electronic health-record incentive payment program were shut down Tuesday along with much of the federal government due to the failure of Congress to pass a continuing spending resolution.

Multiple operations of HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology stopped, according to a 13-page HHS contingency staffing plan. They include administration of the Certified Health Information Technology Product List, or CHPL, a public repository of complete and modular EHR systems that have been tested and certified to standards developed by the ONC. Providers must use only products from the list to qualify for “meaningful use” of EHRs and receive payments under the program, which has thus far paid out $16.2 billion to hospitals, physicians and other eligible professionals.

In addition, the ONC will halt work on the federally funded Standards and Interoperability Framework, a government and private-sector collaborative program to improve the interoperability of health IT systems. And the ONC will be unable to continue with related standards and testing activities, and policy activities such as privacy, security and clinical quality measure development, the plan said.

A CMS spokesperson said via email that the EHR incentive payment program is “up, running and continuing business as usual.” But if the shutdown lingers, providers working with a host of health IT system developers that have not yet had their systems tested and certified against the new, 2014 Edition standards that went into effect today, could be stalled in their efforts to meet current Stage 1 and future Stage 2 meaningful-use targets.

HHS' plan also calls for an estimated 407 staffers to stay at their jobs “for the protection of computer data,” with the majority of these, 212, at the National Institutes of Health. They would be exempt from the furlough “to maintain computerized systems to support research and clinical patient care, including maintenance of the hospital data network, clinical research information system, picture archiving and communications systems, radiology information system and other components directly related to the electronic patient record.” Additional employees will be kept on at NIH “to curate concurrent toxicologic data from external contractor sites requiring sophisticated data-handling expertise to prevent corruption of data stream, as well as to ensure the integrity of experimental data systems.”

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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