ARRA Projects Move Ahead for Health IT, Broadband

Federal government agencies and departments are moving forward with implementing various provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  This update summarizes significant developments over the past few months in areas including health information technology, broadband expansion, construction and research projects.

Health IT Committees Move Forward

Both the Health IT Policy and Standards Committees met several times in April and May with discussion and actions focused in several areas.

  • The Health IT Policy Committee unanimously approved recommendations from two work groups (Adoption and Certification, Privacy and Security) on the proposed rule for electronic health record certification program. Privacy work group recommendations focused on testing and certification of modular EHR component systems, including vendor module labeling to identify privacy and security components.
  • The Health IT Policy Committee also endorsed comments on an ONC plan to offer permanent certification of EHRs, including a provision to monitor EHRs after purchase to ensure providers are installing proper technology. ONC is expected to finalize its plan for permanent certification before the end of the year.
  • The HIT Standards Committee discussed issues related to the March 24, 2010 Drug Enforcement Agency interim final rule regarding electronic prescribing of controlled substances.

A joint, ad hoc work group of the Health IT Policy and Health IT Standards Committees was announced by National Coordinator for Health IT David Blumenthal on May 19. The work group’s charge is to recommend health IT standards and protocols that enable the electronic screening, triage and enrollment of individuals in health insurance exchanges established through federal health care reform, particularly those that may already be enrolled in or eligible for federal public benefit programs. The work group will be co-chaired by California HealthCare Foundation Chief Program Officer Sam Karp and White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. CHCF is the publisher of California Healthline.

Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs

CMS awarded Northrop Grumman $34 million to develop the National Level Repository for EHR incentive payment transactions. The repository will support the administration of payment transactions conducted as part of Medicare and Medicaid’s incentive program for medical professionals, hospitals and other organizations.

President Obama signed HR 4851, which included a modified definition to “hospital-based” physician for the Medicaid and Medicare EHRs Incentive Program. Originally, the EHRs Incentive Program established through ARRA included language that excluded eligible professionals who furnished substantially all of their services in an inpatient or outpatient hospital setting from receiving incentive payments.  Under the amendment made by this legislation, only services furnished in inpatient and ER settings would count against eligibility – services furnished in hospital outpatient settings would not, thus paving the way for the latter group of physicians to receive incentive payments under the program.

Beacon Grant Awards Announced

Fifteen Beacon Community grantees were announced in May with the grantees sharing a total of $220 million in funds. The focus of the program is to encourage communities to use health IT to connect health care providers, community health programs, federal programs and patients, and develop new ways of improving quality and efficiency.

Awards were made in the following states:

  • California — The Regents of the University of California-San Diego ($15.28 million);
  • Colorado — Rocky Mountain HMO in Grand Junction ($11.88 million)
  • Hawaii — University of Hawaii-Hilo ($16.09 million);
  • Indiana — Indiana Health Information Exchange in Indianapolis ($16.01 million);
  • Louisiana — Public Health Institute in New Orleans ($13.53 million);
  • Maine — Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems ($12.75 million);
  • Minnesota — Mayo Clinic Rochester ($12.28 million);
  • Mississippi — Delta Health Alliance ($14.67 million);
  • New York — Western NY Clinical Information Exchange in Buffalo ($16.09 million);
  • North Carolina — Southern Piedmont Community Care Plan in Concord ($15.91 million);
  • Oklahoma — Community Services Council of Tulsa ($12.04 million) ;
  • Pennsylvania — Geisinger Clinic in Danville ($16.07 million);Rhode Island — Rhode Island Quality Institute ($15.91 million);
  • Utah — HealthInsight in Salt Lake City ($15.79 million); and
  • Washington State — Inland Northwest Health Services in Spokane ($15.7 million).

An additional $30 million will be available to fund two additional Beacon communities. Letters of Intent were due by June 9; full applications are due by June 28.

Broadband Projects Announced

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced an opportunity for certain state and local governments to apply for broadband stimulus funding to support public safety projects. Potential applicants include state and local governmental entities that the Federal Communications Commission recently permitted to deploy public safety broadband systems using the 700 megahertz public safety broadband spectrum.

NIH Construction Projects

In May, NIH awarded $1 billion dollars in ARRA funds to construct, repair and renovate scientific research laboratories and related facilities. A total of 146 grants were awarded to institutions in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to upgrade and construct buildings, laboratory spaces, and core facilities crucial to biomedical and behavioral investigators.

Research on Disability Services, Care Coordination

The HHS Office on Disability announced the award of more than $6 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to establish a Center of Excellence in Research on Disability Services, Care Coordination and Integration. 

The two-year contract has been awarded to Mathematica Policy Research and aims to build infrastructure to support and conduct research on the comparative effectiveness of systems of care for people with disabilities.  The center will identify data sources, evaluate the usability of data, conduct research, and disseminate scientifically and clinically relevant information for health care decision making.

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