WASHINGTON – There are no set appropriations for how much the federal government can spend on rewarding providers who adopt and use electronic health records under the Medicare and Medicaid meaningful use EHRincentive program, according to National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, MD.
"Whoever qualifies, gets paid; there's no hard cap," said Mostashari, who gave a keynote at the Annual Policy Summit for the Health Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) on Wednesday.
Mostashari said the federal government estimates it will pay out around $20 billion in incentives before the program shifts to a penalty in 2015, but there is no fixed budget set in the HITECH Act that mandated the program. The government recently announced it has paid out nearly $7 billion since the program began in 2011.
The federal health IT czar said he couldn't imagine health IT advancement – which enjoys widespread bipartisan support – losing the backing of Congress after the election, no matter the party in control.
It would be hard to picture Congress cutting or capping the program after doctors and hospitals have made major investments in health IT "on the good word of Congress," he said.
An attendee of the HIMSS Policy Summit – a sort of pep rally for HIMSS members to promote HIT on the Hill – recommended that Congress all be encouraged to use Blue Button to access their personal health data. This would "crystalize quite clearly" where things stand with regard to health IT today. We need more time and support, the attendee said, and Mostashari and other attendees agreed.
Mostashari praised the meaningful use incentive program, noting that "we've made great steps." He predicted that Stage 2, set to begin in 2014, will bring about even more "incredible progress."
The use of electronic health records is "ulitmately about population health," Mostashari said. "You have to care more about the people who didn't walk into your door, than those who did." The meaningful use program is intended to go from measuring quality at the start, to accounting for population health. "That's why doctors are doing what they're doing, [and] that's why we're doing what we're doing," he said of federal regulators.
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