Legislation seeks IT funding for physician practices

The House Committee on Small Businesses is reviewing legislation that would provide small medical practices with a $10 million boost for adopting healthcare IT.

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business’ Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare, introduced the “Small Business Health Information Technology Financing Act” during a hearing in late June.

H.R.3014 is intended to amend the Small Business Act in order to provide loan guarantees for the acquisition of health information technology by eligible professionals in solo and small group practices.

The bill would provide loans of $350,000 for solo practitioners and $2 million for small practices to support the adoption of health IT that demonstrates “meaningful use.”

“This bill will establish a new loan program at the Small Business Administration designed specifically for doctors who want to invest in health IT,” Dahlkemper said.

“Ultimately small and solo health practitioners are small businesses. Similar to small businesses everywhere, one of their biggest challenges is accessing affordable capital. This legislation will help them find that capital,” she said.

“Currently 21 percent of physicians have adopted an EHR,” said David Blumenthal, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, at the hearing. “The adoption rate among small healthcare providers is significantly lower at about 13 percent. This discrepancy in the rate of adoption for the nation and for small practices highlights the need for focused technical assistance for small healthcare practices.”

Blumenthal said the ONC and CMS are hosting sessions targeted at small healthcare practices so that HHS hears their questions and unique concerns as HITECH is implemented.

A report by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, supported by The California Endowment, shows that although small practices provide nearly three-quarters of all ambulatory care visits in the United States, many lack the resources to improve the quality of care, implement electronic health records or serve an increasingly diverse population.

“Our research shows that small practices are willing to change and adapt their practices to best meet their patients’ needs, be more accountable, improve quality and reduce disparities. However they will need significant support,” said Margaret E. O’Kane, the NCQA’s president. “When considering how to implement health reform that will work for America, small practices need special attention.”