For Raul Ramirez, it has been a long time coming.
“This is a big day for providers, for the state. This is a big day for California,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez, chief of the Department of Health Care Services’ Office of Health Information Technology, was talking about this week’s initial processing of applications for up to $1.4 billion in federal funds for the state’s electronic health record incentive program.
“Providers can register for a part of the money in the incentive program,Â which will be significant,” Ramirez said. “We’re launching the hospital module first.”
The application process will be staggered over three months. Hospital registration opened Oct. 3. Physician groups are next in line, able to apply on Nov. 15. Individual physicians can file for the federal money beginning Dec. 15.
Hospitals could garner as much as $700 million of that money, according to Pamela Lane, vice president of health informatics at the California Hospital Association. Hospitals have been applying this week through a state portal on the CMS website.
“It would be delightful if we didn’t find any bugs in it,” Lane said. “But it should help lay the groundwork for the other portals (starting in November and December).”
Other states have begun to tap the EHR incentive money, Lane said. “But California is the largest state in terms of providers, so the dollars are the largest that are going to flow anywhere,” she said. “It’s a big deal for the state to be able to draw down those federal funds.”
There is still an outstanding issue with the group provider rollout, according to Andie Martinez Patterson of the California Primary Care Association. She said the state still needs to define exactly what a “provider group” is and what eligibility criteria have to be met by smaller clinics and group practices.
“We’re working with the DHCS Office of Health Information Technology, but we have not finalized it,” Patterson said. “We’re trying to understand how everyone is organized in terms of reporting. We have to ensure that there can be a tracking system, because the state is ultimately accountable for that money.”
Ramirez said he hopes to have that definition “well in advance” of next month’s provider group start date. For those provider groups, Ramirez said California is doing something new. Providers will be able to file an early application to make sure they meet eligibility requirements.
“Prequalifying is something that hasn’t been done in any other state,” Ramirez said. “We recognize there are expectations about provider qualifications, so it seemed like a good idea. It’s not only easier for the provider, but also from the perspective of seeing who is qualified, it can reallyÂ enhance the education and outreach.”
From the provider perspective, Ramirez said, “if the state is saying you meet the threshold, they could get started on their EHR projects earlier, knowing the money will be there.”
About 50% of eligible professionals will prequalify, he said.