HHS to test Medicare portal

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

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Contributing to the drive toward an electronic health care system, officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will accelerate the use of electronic prescriptions and conduct a pilot test of a Web portal providing services to beneficiaries.

CMS administrator Mark McClellan announced the initiatives during a Department of Health and Human Services conference today. Officials also unveiled a 10-year strategic plan for widespread health information technology adoption, including electronic health records, which they said would lower costs and improve services.

McClellan said the portal will be tested in Indianapolis, where beneficiaries can securely access Medicare claims information, including claims types, dates of service and procedures. Later this year, information on preventive services will be added.

"Medicare is becoming a prevention-oriented program ... with a broader array of preventive benefits than ever before," he said. "But those benefits only work if our beneficiaries know about them and know how to take advantage of them. We're going to enable them to do that through this personalized Web tool assistance."

Beneficiaries don't have to use the Internet, and instead can call CMS' consumer help line round-the-clock at (800) MEDICARE. McClellan said the test would provide valuable insight in implementing the program nationwide. There are 41 million Medicare beneficiaries in the country.

Agency officials also will work to accelerate the nationwide adoption of electronic prescriptions. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2004 calls for mandatory e-prescriptions by 2009 for drug plans participating in the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, but McClellan said they would be able to develop national standards by 2006, when the benefit begins.

"E-prescribing can improve patient safety and reduce avoidable health care costs by reducing prescription errors due to that hard-to-read physician handwriting," he said.

Officials are also reviewing existing e-prescription programs that could be replicated nationwide. Adoption by physicians, who are not required to take part in e-prescriptions, could be a problem, McClellan said.

"But by having established standards, by taking additional steps to encourage the use and support for effective programs, we're going to make e-prescribing much more attractive and that will encourage and support faster adoption," he said.

Additionally, McClellan said CMS is joining a national alliance of purchasers and payers to help create a common approach to encourage health IT adoption. Agency officials also will conduct demonstrations to determine how financial incentives could encourage electronic health record adoption in physicians' offices.

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