A group of medical clinics in Illinois is lobbying Congress to adjust the meaningful use program so rural health centers can receive incentive payments for meaningfully using electronic health records, the Springfield State Journal-Register reports (Olsen, Springfield State Journal-Register, 7/5).
Under the HITECH Act in the 2009 economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments. Hospitals, physicians, dentists and certain other health care providers are eligible for the program, but federally qualified health centers and rural health centers are among the health care providers that are ineligible.
Rich Brennan -- executive director of the Home Care Technology Association of America -- said staffers from the House Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means committees have met with ineligible health care providers and explained that the meaningful use program aims to achieve maximum effect with the amount of funding available, rather than disburse the funding to a greater number of health care providers.
In March, lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation (HR 1187) that would amend the HITECH Act to make federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics eligible for Medicaid incentive payments (iHealthBeat, 5/4).
Aric Sharp -- CEO of Quincy Medical Group, which operates rural health clinics throughout Illinois -- said lawmakers could vote on changing the HITECH Act later this year.
Quincy Medical Group is spearheading the Illinois effort to push for changes in the HITECH Act. The group estimates that it could qualify for about $1.76 million in incentive payments if it were allowed to participate in the meaningful use program.
Sharp said that rural health centers are "going to be left behind" if they do not adopt health IT. Other clinic leaders and advocates say rural health centers need the incentive payments to make up for the cost of implementing EHR systems.
Michael McNear, COO of Illini Medical Associates, said the incentive payments would help his organization recover some of the money it already has invested in EHRs. "I don't see medical groups making a profit on this," he said, adding that incentive payments would help fund future updates and training because "[t]he investment in EHR [systems] does not stop" (Springfield State Journal-Register, 7/5).