$87M in IT enhancements to ‘unlock’ data, improve health center quality

HHS will provide $87 million in funding to support information technology (IT) enhancements in 1,310 health centers throughout the United States and its territories. The funding is intended to support the health centers’ transition to value-based models of care, promote information-sharing to improve quality of care, allow the centers to use information to support better decisions, and increase their engagement in transforming delivery systems. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell stated that the funding “will help unlock health care data and put it to work.”

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) health centers provide comprehensive preventive and primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay, adjusting fees based on that ability. Section 10503 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) established an $11 billion, five-year Community Health Center (CHC) Fund to strengthen the centers, which was extended by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) of 2015. Funding for the IT enhancements comes from the CHC Fund.

Health centers that use the funding to purchase or upgrade electronic health record (EHR) systems must ensure that the technology is certified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Health centers encouraged to become medical homes, receive HHS grants

Nearly 250 health centers are the proud recipients of grants that will allow them to reform the way they provide care by shifting to the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) model. These centers are located in 41 states, D.C., the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Federation of Micronesia, and will share in the $8.6 million in funding provided by HHS.

PCMH

Medical homes offer patients an opportunity to have additional input in their care, as well as a central location for care coordination. Primary care providers are able to better coordinate with specialists through this model, and patients are encouraged to participate in the decision-making process along with the providers. The PCMH model also encourages providers to take into account each patient’s unique conditions, circumstances, and preferences when coordinating care (see Medical homes change primary care, but reimbursement questions remain, Health Law Daily, May 3, 2016).

Grants

This grant funding is provided through the Community Health Center (CHC) fund, established by section 10503 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) and extended in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10). HHS Secretary Burwell stated that these grants will allow better coordination of a broad range of health care services, including dental services and behavioral health care along with primary care. Although 65 percent of health centers are recognized as having some PCMH qualities, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) believes that this funding will allow more health centers to better focus on coordinating care. Health centers provide care for about 23 million patients across the country and territories.