Health Care Provisions in Federal Stimulus Come Into Focus

Six months after the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government continues to make progress on several health care provisions included in the federal stimulus package. This update summarizes significant recent developments.

Health IT

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is making headway in its efforts to develop an electronic toolkit to help physicians determine the best ways to gather and use digital information to improve their practices.

AHRQ posted a request for information to collect data from health information technology experts, vendors, industry groups, and, especially, small and medium-sized physician practices that already have deployed health IT.  The RFI aims to collect information about how such practices redesigned workflow after rolling out health IT applications. 

AHRQ will use these responses to develop an electronic toolkit to aid small and medium-sized practices in analyzing workflow when implementing health IT applications.

Comments are due by Aug. 24, 2009. 

The Health IT Policy Committee released and adopted its recommendations for the definition of meaningful use at its July 16th meeting.  A matrix summary of the recommendations is available on the Policy Committee’s Web site.

The Health IT Standards Committee introduced and approved an initial set of standards and quality measures to align with the Policy Committee’s recommendations on meaningful use and also identified standards that align with other ARRA priority areas of focus — e.g. privacy and security — that are deployable in 2011, 2013 and beyond.

Medicaid/FMAP

With regard to implementing the increased fed­eral medical assistance percentage (FMAP) rates specified under ARRA, CMS released a frequently asked questions document and a state Medicaid directors letter on the prompt pay requirement.

FMAP is the share of total Medicaid expenditures the federal government pays. 

CMS also released a notice on the proposed method for calculating the increased FMAP rates that will apply during a recession adjustment period (Oct.1, 2008, through Dec. 31, 2010).  Comments are due by Aug. 19.

Work Force Training and Development

The Department of Labor announced plans to spend $220 million for health care work force training and development efforts through a competitive grant application process. Applications are due in October.

Separately, HHS announced $200 million to support grants, loans and loan repayments and scholarships to expand the training of health care professionals. 

Broadband

Applications for broadband funding were accepted from July 14 through Aug. 14, pursuant to a joint Notice of Funds Availability released by USDA’s Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration on July 9. 

The Federal Communications Commission is staging a series of public stakeholder and staff workshops to discuss the National Broadband Plan Aug. 6 through Sept. 3.  A health care-focused workshop will be held on Sept. 2. 

Community Health Centers

The Health Resources and Services Administration announced $515 million for the Facility Investment Program for a one-time facility improvement opportunity to support existing health centers funded under section 330.  Applications were due Aug. 6.

HRSA also announced the release of $851 million in Capital Improvement Program grants to support the construction, repair and renovation of section 330-funded health center sites nationwide. A list of funded sites is available online.

Rural Health

USDA announced $1.7 billion in loan assistance for rural businesses, which can include health facilities serving rural areas. 

Also, USDA announced $58 million for 102 community facilities projects in rural areas, including medical and community centers and assisted living facilities.

Prevention and Wellness

Throughout July, CDC announced almost $5 million in funding awards aimed at increasing immunization rates through provider partnerships.

HHS has announced $1 million in funding for 12 state efforts to improve care in ambulatory surgery centers to reduce health care associated infections.  An additional $9 million will be available in October 2009 for all states to use a new survey tool for ASC inspections.

Comparative Effectiveness Research

AHRQ recently released its plan for spending its $300 million share of the $1.1 billion in ARRA funds allocated to comparative effectiveness research.  Funding will focus initially on 14 priority conditions established by the secretary of HHS. 

Earlier this month, AHRQ announced its intent to publish grant and contract solicitations for CER beginning in fall 2009 with funding to begin in spring 2010.

NIH released its spending report for its $400 million share of CER funds.  According to the report, NIH’s major role will be evidence generation through research, in addition to funding training and data infrastructure as well as dissemination and translation.

Webinars on ARRA Grants Under Way

Grants.gov will host a three-part series of webinars on ARRA-based grants.  Registration opened Aug. 10.

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