HHS to award $235M in health IT grants to local communities

Beacon Community Program to fund digital health record adoption in 15 communities

The Health and Human Services Department is starting a new grant program to distribute $235 million to communities that can serve as models for use of electronic health records (EHRs).

Through the Beacon Communites Program, HHS will be awarding $220 million to 15 communities that have demonstrated high levels of digital health record usage, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today in a news release. Another $15 million will go for technical assistance and independent evaluation services to those areas.

“These communities are best-positioned to lead the way in accomplishing meaningful use of electronic health record systems, and to provide valuable lessons to other localities on the preferred approaches to elevating the performance of local health systems using health [information technology],” David Blumenthal, HHS’ Health IT National Coordinator said.

The grants will pay for building and strengthening health IT infrastructures and health information exchange, including privacy and security measures. The goal is to use digital records to improve health care quality and efficiency while reducing costs.

HHS officials said applications for the Beacon Communities Program grants will be available in the near future. The program is funded under the economic stimulus law.

In a related effort to advance health IT, the stimulus law provided $20 billion in incentives to providers who purchase and "meaningfully use" certified EHR systems. HHS is preparing rulemaking by year’s end to specify standards for the certifications and meaningful use, along with privacy and security rules and quality measurements.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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