HHS seeks ONCHIT funding increase

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology would receive a 7.7 percent funding hike under President Bush’s fiscal year 2009 budget proposal.

ONCHIT, the Health and Human Services Department's health information technology arm, promotes electronic medical record adoption. In a Monday press conference, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt cited EMR technology as a critical component in changing the nation’s health care system and correcting the course of Medicare.

Leavitt described Medicare, on its current trajectory, as “eleven years from going broke.”

The proposed budget would give ONCHIT $66 million compared with its FY 2008 outlay of $61.3 million. ONCHIT’s current budget is flat with FY 2007 funding levels.

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 back 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 HIT. HHS plans to transition AHIC to a public/private partnership based in the private sector, according to the department.

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 electronic health records systems. The FY 2009 request also covers an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality effort to advance the use of HIT in patient safety.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would receive $3 million for “independent evaluations of electronic health record adoption and economic factors influencing health IT,” according to the HHS budget proposal. That work would be done in coordination with ONCHIT.

About the Author

John Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

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