Electronic Health Records

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ONC: Meaningful use incentives will continue despite shutdown

By Jennifer Bresnick

Squabbling lawmakers can’t stop meaningful use from marching on, says outgoing National Coordinator Dr. Farzad Mostashari.  Despite the government shutdown now dragging into its second week, and the furlough of more than half the staff of the Department of Health and Human Services, providers will continue to be able to attest to meaningful use and receive incentive payments.

“Health IT incentive payments do not come from annual appropriations; our CMS colleagues continue to receive attestations,” Mostashari said on Twitter.  “CMS continues to process mandatory payments to docs and hospitals.”

Many other ONC activities have been put on hold due to the government’s lack of funding, including the certification of EHR products for 2014 and the Standards and Interoperability Framework.  The ONC was forced to drop 180 employees last week, leaving only four staff members on the payroll.  Other HHS departments struck by the impasse include the Indian Health Service, which has stopped funding tribal and urban Indian health programs, CMS fraud and abuse investigators, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which can no longer fund grants and research programs for patient safety improvements.

Funding for the EHR Incentive Programs has already been approved by Congress, however, and attestations are still being processed, said Lauren Fifield, Senior Health Policy Advisor for vendor Practice Fusion. “The process may be slowed, but the attestation will continue and the funds for providers who were successful will also continue,” she said.

Medicare and Medicaid services and beneficiaries are also largely protected from the Congressional quarrels, as are activities related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the newly launched health information exchanges that have sparked the conflict in the first place.  “CMS would continue large portions of ACA activities, including coordination between Medicaid and the Marketplace, as well as insurance rate reviews, and assessment of a portion of insurance premiums that are used on medical services,” states the HHS contingency plan. “In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations.”





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