August 3, 2010

Newsletter Contents

  • Definition of Underserved Revisited
  • Legislative Updates
  • Meaningful Use Update
  • President Submits Berwick Nomination to Senate after Recess Appointment
  • Health IT Working For You

    Definition of Underserved Revisited

    Recently, Secretary Sebelius announced that HRSA is taking another stab at defining “medically underserved areas” and “health professional shortage areas” after previous attempts at defining the terms did not come to fruition. The agency has appointed a diverse committee of 28 healthcare stakeholders from across the country assigned "to review and update the criteria used to define medically underserved areas and health professional shortage areas." With language in both the HITECH Act and the Health Reform bill specifically outlining the administration’s commitment to address the elimination of health disparities, many community and health advocates are on high alert about the risk of any underserved group (e.g. geographic, socio-economic, racial, cultural, disability, etc.) being left out of the final definition. If left out, community and safety net organizations and clinics risk not being eligible for certain federal funding to support those populations. A draft proposal of the final definitions is expected July 2011. Click here for more information.

    Last year the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) experienced similar debates as they attempted to define “unserved” and “underserved” populations. They released a final rule in June 2009 defining those terms as "an area, composed of one or more contiguous census blocks where at least 90 percent of households in the proposed funded service area lack access to faculties-based, terrestrial broadband service, either fixed or mobile, at the minimum-broadband speed." This definition was critical as it has been used to designate stimulus funds supporting projects with goals of improving broadband infrastructure in those underserved communities.

    Legislative Updates

    As recess approaches, the House has focused some of their attention to health IT, including two recently held congressional hearings (Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means) to discuss the Meaningful Use Final Rule and HITECH funding. As a result, members have put their pens to paper and introduced a couple of legislative actions in response to the final rule:

    • HR 5040 – Health Information Technology Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act of 2010: Reps. Kennedy (D-RI) and Murphy (R-PA)’s bill is steadily gaining support in the House with 69 co-sponsors. The bill was introduced in May and it intends to expand the EHR meaningful use incentive payments outlined by CMS to previously ineligible community behavioral health providers and organizations, including: behavioral and mental health professionals, psychiatric hospitals, behavioral and mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse treatment facilities. Currently mental and behavioral health providers are excluded from receiving EHR payment incentives through ARRA. Click here to see if your member is a co-sponsor.
    • HR 6072 - Electronic Health Record Incentives for Multi-Campus Hospitals Act: On Friday, Representative Zack Space (D-OH) introduced this bill to amend the meaningful use final rule to ensure that hospitals that are part of a larger, multicampus system and share a single Medicare provider number are eligible for incentive payments. The bill also includes language to eliminate the provision in the meaningful use final rule that identifies multicampus hospitals as single units. Click here to read more about HR 6072.
    • HR 6005: Also on Friday, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) introduced a bill which would help make health care providers eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments in 2011 and 2012 if their existing EHR systems comply with meaningful use requirements but are not certified, AHA News reports. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's final rule for certification of EHRs requires physicians and hospitals to use EHRs that are certified under a new federal certification process to qualify for the incentive payments. However, because certified products are not yet available, health care providers and early adopters of advanced EHR systems might be forced to install new certified EHRs or upgrade to a certified version before they can be eligible for payments, according to AHA News (AHA News [2], 7/30). Click here to read more about HR 6005.

    Meaningful Use Update

    On July 13th, CMS and ONC released their much awaited final rule on meaningful use of HIT for eligible providers and hospitals to qualify for the incentive program. The 864-page final rule outlines the Stage 1 criteria for meaningful use and clinical quality measure reporting. CMS received over 2000 comments, including NHIT’s (link), in response to its proposed interim rule issued in December 2009. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on July 28th and can be viewed here. Our friends at the National Partnership for Women and Families have graciously shared a series of links to information regarding meaningful use. These resources can be viewed on our website.

    President Submits Berwick Nomination to Senate after Recess Appointment

    With midterm elections around the corner, increasing opposition from Congressional Republicans to delay the confirmation of the President’s CMS nominee and the release of meaningful use final rules, two weeks ago President Obama announced the recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick as the new Administrator for CMS. This move by the President during Congressional recess kept Berwick from going through the traditional confirmation process and scrutiny endured by other nominees and will allow him to keep his post through 2011. CMS has been without a permanent lead since 2006. Recently, President Obama submitted his nomination to the Senate. If the Senate approves Berwick’s appointment, then he will keep his post indefinitely.

    Health IT Working For You

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