ONC in line for budget boost

By Mary Mosquera
10:41 AM

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT would receive $66 million, or $5 million more than the current year, under President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013.

ONC’s budget would increase 8.2 percent to advance the progress in creating a nationwide health IT infrastructure, including further accelerating the adoption of electronic health records and their meaningful use by physicians.

ONC’s spending is part of the president’s request for $76.7 billion, or 0.4 percent more than 2012, for the small part of HHS spending that is discretionary in his budget released Feb. 13.

Out of the $941 billion in HHS outlays, only 8 percent is discretionary. The overwhelming department spending goes to entitlement and benefit programs, primarily Medicare and Medicaid.

ONC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are working together to register physicians and hospitals to qualify for incentive payments when they become meaningful users. ONC and CMS anticipate that 80,000 providers will have received payments by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2012, according to the budget document.

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Among ONC’s efforts, the 62 health IT regional extension centers have registered 130,000 physicians – about one-third of all primary care providers and more than two-thirds of all rural providers in the nation – to help them adopt and demonstrate meaningful use.

“As of January 2012, nearly 60,000 REC-assisted providers had implemented EHRs with e-prescribing and quality reporting capabilities, and more than 5,000 of these providers have achieved meaningful use,” HHS said in its proposed budget.

In 2011, Medicare and Medicaid had paid more than $2.5 billion in incentives to 32,500 physicians and hospitals, HHS reported.

ONC would also receive $12 million for standards and health information exchange work to foster the sharing of patient information, whether among small providers or large hospital systems.

ONC would also receive $7.8 million, or $2 million more than currently, for ONC to share best practices for adoption and meaningful use of health IT with healthcare and community organizations and to support the extension centers.

And $5 million would go to assure that privacy and security policies and practices are in place to safeguard personal health information. ONC will also explore security issues related to patient-centered medical home models, such as secure electronic communications with patients, according to the spending document. 

Rolling out the 2010 health reform law is one of the administration’s top priorities, and as part of that CMS would spend $574 million to begin operations for a federal version of the health insurance exchange for states that are unable or balk at complying and to start approving state-based insurance exchanges for states that are making progress. Individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health coverage in the online marketplaces in 2014. 

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CMS would also receive $549 million for general IT systems, such as those to manage and administer Medicare Advantage, the federal insurance exchange, insurance exchange data services hub and the agency’s data center. Included in that is $246 million to modernize CMS’ enterprise-wide IT systems.

Spending for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) would stay steady at $26 million for health IT research in 2013. This includes $19 million for 56 research grants to generate evidence showing the most effective and efficient use of health IT to improve health care and $7 million to analyze and circulate evidence about meaningful use of health IT and develop tools and resources to establish best practices.