Obama stimulates EMR adoption with bill passage

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President Barack Obama this week signed a 1,071-page economic stimulus bill into law, which includes approximately $20 billion for healthcare IT and establishes new rules to protect the privacy of patients' health information.

The bulk of the funding will go to Medicare and Medicaid providers as incentives to use EMRs, beginning in 2011.The providers will be penalized if they do not adopt EMRs by 2014 or 2015, reported Government Health IT.

Additional provision will give hospitals as much as $11 million and doctors between $44,000 and $64,000 for using EMRs.

The Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONCHIT), which is now operating with an annual budget of less than $61 million, is slotted to receive $2 billion to increase its capacity.

Other provisions assign money to support regional health information exchanges and similar services. Nearly one-tenth of the bill's pages are devoted to healthcare IT.

Government Health IT reported that other notable provisions include:

  • Privacy rules under the HIPAA are strengthened, and their applicability is extended to more individuals and organizations that have access to patients' health records;
  • ONCHIT is required to appoint a chief privacy officer to advise the national coordinator on privacy and security issues;
  • New healthcare IT policy and standards committees would be established as federal advisory committees;
  • Healthcare providers and insurers that contract with the federal government must use standards-compliant healthcare IT systems and products;
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would test healthcare IT standards;
  • Organizations and individuals that have patients' health records would be required to report breaches of that data;
  • Sales of health records would be restricted largely, making the data mainly restricted to researchers and public health authorities; and
  • State attorneys general could sue individuals to enforce HIPAA privacy and security standards.