The federal government would provide billions of dollars over five years to help providers implement information technology under a Senate bill. Grants to hospitals would total $1.25 billion between fiscal 2006 and 2010, with a maximum allocation of $1 million for individual hospitals. Physician groups would receive a total of $2 billion, with a maximum of $15,000 per doctor, and skilled-nursing facilities $500 million, with a maximum of $200,000 per facility. Other provider groups also would be eligible for HHS grants. The bill was introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). At deadline, it wasn't known if a companion House bill was in the works. The HHS secretary would be required to report to Congress at least annually during the life of the program on the use of the funds and the effect on healthcare delivery.
Federal aid for IT has been high on providers' agenda, given the staggering costs of many projects. SSM Health Care, St. Louis, for example, is raising $42 million to implement a picture-archiving communications system at its 20 hospitals, according to the St. Louis Business Journal. The money will come from $760 million in bonds the system plans to issue in June and July, the largest-ever tax-exempt bond issue in Missouri and one of the largest among hospitals nationwide. Most of the proceeds will refinance debt and fund construction projects, including a new hospital, but SSM aims to set aside money for electronic records conversion, as well as the PACS, the Business Journal reported. -- by Tony Fong