The Obama administration announced new rules Tuesday that setaside billions of dollars in incentive payments to aid health careprofessionals and hospitals in adopting qualifying electronic health records over the next five years.

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According to a statement from the Department of Health and HumanServices, under the Health Information Technology for Economic andClinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, eligible health careprofessionals and hospitals can qualify for Medicare and Medicaidincentive payments when they implement certified EHR technology and use it to achieve specified objectives.

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The aim is to move to a computerized streamlined system, whichcould mean long-term savings.

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"For years, health policy leaders on both sides of the aislehave urged adoption of electronic health records throughout ourhealth care system to improve quality of care and ultimately lowercosts," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "Today, with theleadership of the President and the Congress, we are making thatgoal a reality."

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HHS announced two regulations. One (issued by the Centers for Medicare& Medicaid Services) explains what providers must do toqualify for the bonus payments and the other (issued by theOffice of the National Coordinator for Health InformationTechnology) identifies the technical capabilities required forcertified EHR technology.

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As much as $27 billion may be expended, according to HHS.Eligible professionals may receive as much as $44,000 underMedicare and $63,750 under Medicaid, and hospitals may receivemillions of dollars for implementation and meaningful use ofcertified EHRs under both Medicare and Medicaid.

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Starting in 2015, hospitals and doctors could face financialpenalties under Medicare if they are not using electronic healthrecords.

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According to HHS: "With 'meaningful use' definitions in place,EHR system vendors can ensure that their systems deliver therequired capabilities, providers can be assured that the systemthey acquire will support achievement of 'meaningful use'objectives, and a concentrated five-year national initiative toadopt and use electronic records in health care can begin."

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CMS' and ONC's final rules complement two other recently issuedHHS rules. On June 24, ONC published a final rule establishing atemporary certification program for health information technology.And on July 8 the Office for Civil Rights announced a proposed rulethat would strengthen and expand privacy, security, and enforcementprotections under the Health Insurance Portability andAccountability Act of 1996.

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As part of this process, HHS is establishing a nationwidenetwork of Regional Extension Centers to assist providers in adopting andusing in a meaningful way certified EHR technology.

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"This is a turning point for electronic health records inAmerica, and for improved quality and effectiveness in healthcare," said David Blumenthal, M.D., National Coordinator for HealthInformation Technology. "In delivering on the goals that Congresscalled for, we have sought to provide the leadership andcoordination that are essential for a large, technology-basedenterprise. At the same time, we have sought and received extensiveinput from the health care community, and we have drawn on theirexperience and wisdom to produce objectives that are both ambitiousand achievable."

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Get more:

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A CMS/ONC fact sheet on therules is available.

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A technical fact sheeton ONC's standards and certification criteria final rule isavailable.

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