Departments award nearly $1B in grants for health IT

Funding goes for data exchanges, extension centers and training

The Health and Human Services and Labor departments are distributing $986 million in economic stimulus law grants to state governments, nonprofit organizations and community colleges to promote electronic health records (EHRs) and medical data exchange, officials have announced.

HHS’ funding includes $386 million to help establish health information exchanges in 40 states and state-designated entities in the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program, according to a news release dated Feb. 12.

Another $375 million will go to 32 nonprofit agencies serving as regional extension centers assisting doctors and hospitals implementing digital record systems.

Labor is contributing $225 million to set up 55 training programs at community colleges to help people use EHRs. The programs aims to train 15,000 people in job skills needed to access careers in health care, IT and other high-growth fields.

"Health information technology can make our health care system more efficient and improve the quality of care we all receive," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the release. "These grant awards, the first of their kind, will help develop our electronic infrastructure and give doctors and other health care providers the support they need as they adopt this powerful technology."

HHS intends to make additional awards for the health data exchange and regional extension centers in the coming weeks, Dr. David Blumenthal, HHS National Coordinator for Health IT, wrote in an e-mail message Feb. 12.

Under the health information exchange program, states will establish and deploy plans for statewide exchanges with appropriate guidance, policies and technical support. Developing the state-level capability will help doctors and hospitals achieve "meaningful use" of digital records to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments totaling $17 billion, Blumenthal said. Under the meaningful use regulations published Jan. 13, providers must collect and exchange specific data.

HHS also will “strongly encourage” the state-sponsored health data exchanges to participate in HHS’ Nationwide Health Information Network, which is a set of protocols and standards for exchange, Blumenthal wrote.

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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