Done deal: Obama signs stimulus package into law

By Diana Manos
11:25 AM

President Barack Obama signed the massive $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law Tuesday at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The law sets aside $19.2 billion for healthcare IT and more than $100 billion for other healthcare measures, including Medicaid funding and subsidies to help unemployed workers afford healthcare coverage through COBRA.

The law includes a provision to make permanent the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The office had been operating under a presidential executive order since 2004.

"Because we know that spiraling healthcare costs are crushing families and businesses alike, we're taking the most meaningful steps in years towards modernizing our healthcare system," Obama told supporters following the signing. "It's an investment that will take the long overdue step of computerizing America's medical records to reduce the duplication and waste that costs billions of healthcare dollars and medical errors that cost thousands of lives each year."

The president said the law makes "a historic commitment to wellness initiatives" by investing in chronic disease prevention. 

Charles Jaffe, MD, CEO of Health Level Seven (HL7), said the law "appropriately recognizes that a paperless health system, powered by standards-based, interoperable electronic health records, is essential to ensuring higher quality healthcare for our citizens."

The Electronic Health Records Association, in partnership with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), supports the law to provide economic stimulus through funding of health information technology.

"We have worked closely with the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and industry partners to provide information on the practical application of HIT throughout the development of this important economic recovery package," said Justin Barnes, the EHR Association's chairman. "It's not just about greater adoption of electronic health records, which, of course, are an important infrastructure component of the stimulus package, but, more fundamentally, we want to ensure Americans are afforded the real benefits of interoperable health IT and EHRs, which are proven to save lives, reduce costs and increase access to quality care." 

HIMSS predicts the inclusion of $19.2 billion for health IT "will have important economic benefits and result in improved patient care." HIMSS, representing more than 350 corporate members and 20,000 individual members - of which 73 percent work in provider settings - believes health IT funding is essential to meet Obama's goal of computerized health records for all Americans by 2014.

According to HIMSS officials, the legislation addresses the costs cited by many doctors and hospitals as the foremost barrier to EHR adoption by now making doctors and hospitals eligible for incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement systems, rewarding them for demonstrating a "meaningful use" of certified EHR technology.

Obama said he expects the American people to hold the federal government accountable for the results of the law. A new Web site,, is already up and running, "so every American can go online and see how their money is being spent," he said.

The site will also show projections, based on language in the legislation, of where the money will go, state-by-state.

"Over the coming weeks and months, as the funds start to go out, you'll be able to see far more detailed information," Obama said. 

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