HHS fiscal 2009 budget includes slight boost for ONCHIT

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OCHIT FY 2009 budget has been proposed. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians  

President George W. Bush in his fiscal year 2009 budget proposal has requested $66 million for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT), a slight increase from the $61.3 million the office received in FY 2008.

ONCHIT, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department's health IT division, promotes EHR adoption. In a Monday press conference, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt cited EHR technology as a critical component in changing the nation’s healthcare system and correcting the course of Medicare.

Bush initially had requested $114 million for the office in 2008, but some members of Congress expressed concern over the lack of progress the office has made since its formation nearly four years ago. The office ultimately received the same funding in 2008 that it had the previous year.

Other IT initiatives being funded in the proposed $737 billion HHS budget include:

  • $45 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to support IT initiatives;
  • $2 million increase to fund 13 new positions in the Office for Civil Rights to enhance enforcement of the HIPAA privacy rule; and
  • $50 million, a 47 percent increase, for the BioSense human health surveillance system in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The HHS budget document states that the office’s FY 2009 funding will “continue health data standards development, support solutions for privacy and security challenges in electronic health information exchange, and support the testing of standards and services to exchange health information across geographic borders.”

The funding would also finance the establishment of a successor to the American Health Information Community (AHIC). AHIC, chartered in 2005 as a federal advisory body, makes recommendations regarding the accelerated adoption of health IT. HHS plans to transition AHIC to a public/private partnership based in the private sector.

In addition to the ONCHIT funding, the budget proposes $3.8 million for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to fund the second year of a demonstration project to offer financial incentives for as many as 1,200 physician practices to adopt certified EHR systems. The FY 2009 request also covers an AHRQ effort to advance the use of health IT in patient safety.