SSA to award contracts for NHIN links

Agency to spend $24 million in stimulus funds

The Social Security Administration is on track to issue a request for proposals in weeks for up to $24 million in contracts to help providers engage in health information exchanges under the economic stimulus law, according to an audit by the SSA’s Inspector General.

The agency published a request for information updated July 8 that asked vendors to submit ideas on information technology solutions to collect patient data electronically and exchange it through the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) operated by the Health and Human Services Department.

The goal is to improve the SSA’s Disability Determination Process. The SSA, after getting applications for disability aid, requests an estimated 15 million to 20 million medical records a year from doctors, clinics, hospitals and other providers to determine if the applicants are eligible for the aid. The process is very labor and paper intensive, and many providers do not respond to the requests.

One of SSA’s proposed solutions is to recruit additional health care providers and networks to automate the exchange of medical records through the NHIN, the RFI said. To achieve this goal, SSA intends to award fixed-price contracts to expand the number of health care providers participating in its Medical Evidence Gathering and Analysis through Health Information Technology project.

It is expected that the contracts will be awarded to organizations representing health information exchanges, regional health information organizations and providers.

Although the SSA could spend up to $40 million of stimulus funds for health IT activities, the agency determined it could only manage a maximum of 20 contracts, totaling $24 million, the audit of July 31 said.

The agency has obtained approval of its plan from the White House, named a special adviser for health IT and a senior accountable official, established health IT workgroups, set a timeline for awarding contracts, and planned for oversight.

The agency expects to issue a request for proposals in this month and to award contracts by the end of January 2010.

“Once these contracts are awarded, the agency should continually reassess whether the agency could manage more contracts or whether additional funds should be used for Health IT-related initiatives,” the IG wrote.

The SSA is conducting a pilot project with MedVirginia to automate delivery of patient records for the purpose of determining disability eligibility.

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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