Congress passes stimulus with $19B for healthcare IT
Both houses of Congress have reached a compromise in support of President Barack Obama's Economic Reinvestment and Recovery Act that, among other initiatives totaling $787 billion, is expected to have a net impact of $19 billion for healthcare on the federal budget over the next 10 years.

The final stimulus bill earmarks approximately $2.5 billion for construction of healthcare IT infrastructure and about $17 billion in Medicare/Medicaid incentives payable to physicians and hospitals that can demonstrate "meaningful" use of certified healthcare IT, such as EHRs. Practices and organizations that do so by 2011 are eligible to receive a $15,000 bonus from the government, with decreasing amounts available during the ensuing three years, according to the bill. Plus, $10 billion in technology spending incentives could mean additional funding for healthcare IT.

"The [bill's] goal is to automate as many medical practices as possible within the next five years. The government's stated goal is 90 percent," Charlie Jarvis, head lobbyist and client financier for NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, an EMR provider, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Today it's more like 10 percent to 20 percent, depending on what you consider 'automated.' They're taking care of that problem, too, by setting national automation standards for security and access."

No Republicans backed the package in the House vote on Feb. 13, where seven Democrats joined 176 Republicans in opposition; 246 voted for it. Hours later, the Senate, voting 60-38, cleared the measure to be sent to the White House for approval. Three Republicans joined with 57 Senate Democrats in support of the package; 38 Republicans voted against it.

Obama is expected to sign the act into law today in Denver.