ONC Drafts Health IT Extension Program
ONC published a draft description of the health IT extension program in today’s Federal Register, requesting comments within two weeks—by June 11.
The extension program is called for under the HITECH Act in ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It authorizes creation of a National Health Information Technology Research Center and affiliated regional extension centers to assist providers in selecting and implementing certified electronic health records.
The program also will assist providers in becoming “meaningful users” of the systems, a prerequisite to receiving bonus Medicare and Medicaid payments under a separate ARRA provision.
The extension program is to give preference to providers serving uninsured, underinsured, underserved, and special-needs populations.
The HITECH Act also calls for the regional centers to participate “to the extent practicable” in health information exchanges and to integrate health IT into the initial and ongoing training of health professionals and others in the industry. They will be encouraged to seek broad industry, academic, and state government participation and use federal expertise where appropriate.
ONC proposes that the regional extension centers will form a consortium coordinated and facilitated by the research center. The research center’s primary function will be to produce best practices, and the regional centers will be responsible for disseminating them.
The draft proposes that the regional centers’ key service will be on-site assistance, with an established minimum level of service that would include unbiased information on appropriate exchange of health information and information on integrating health IT into practice workflow.
HITECH specifies that the regional centers will be organizations “affiliated with any United States-based nonprofit organization, or group thereof.” ONC’s proposal includes draft required criteria as well as its own preferred criteria, which include “multi-stakeholder collaborations that leverage local resources,” as well as applicants that identify viable matching funds.
ONC is proposing two-year awards based on the size of the population served. It expects awards to range $1-2 million per year, with a maximum of $10 million.
ONC anticipates that applicants will require 2 months or more to prepare their proposals. It expects to make awards as early as the first quarter of 2010 and continue through that year. The timing is intended to enable the centers to help providers be eligible for the bonus payments in 2011 (hospitals) and 2012 (physicians), when the incentives are greatest.