Senators Jay Rockefeller, Sheldon Whitehouse and Al Franken today introduced the Medicaid Information Technology to Enhance Community Health (MITECH) Act, legislation to help health clinics and providers serving vulnerable, low-income patients qualify for incentive payments under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act's "meaningful use" program -- established to encourage the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced companion legislation today in the House of Representatives.
By expanding incentive payments to health clinics and providers who serve low-income, uninsured, and underinsured populations, the MITECH Act would help support these providers' efforts to move to EHRs. Once adopted, EHRs improve providers' ability to make a diagnosis and end duplicative testing, which reduces costs for the patient and federal government. They also help reduce the prevalence of "doctor shopping" for inappropriate drugs as physicians could see what other clinics patients have visited and what medication they were prescribed.
"We can't get serious about improving care and reducing costs for our most vulnerable populations without leveraging the full promise of electronic health records," said Senator Rockefeller. "We're moving this bill today so providers serving so many of these families in rural West Virginia communities -- which are often the only opportunity for care within miles -- can access this transformative technology that will change the way they care for their patients."
For low-income and uninsured patients, they often seek health services from any number of settings rather than returning to a set primary care provider. When the clinics are able to establish and maintain electronic health records for their patients, it is far more likely that a patient's record will be available to their health care providers even if the patient is seeing a different provider in a different clinic.
"Expanding the use of electronic health records will ultimately lower costs and improve care for patients," said Senator Whitehouse. "This legislation will help many of our nation's health clinics, including the Rhode Island Free Clinic in Providence, purchase electronic health record systems to better serve their patients."
"Using electronic health records offers health care providers enormous potential to reduce errors, improve patient health, and lower costs," said Senator Franken. "This commonsense legislation would help make sure that patients can benefit from this new technology and that's why I'm proud to support the bill."
"It is critical that we support health care providers working with our nation's most vulnerable populations, no matter what setting they practice in," said Congresswoman Capps. "This bill would even the playing field and encourage providers to implement electronic health records, increasing efficiencies and improving the health system so that we can continue to provide high-quality care to all Americans."
"As a critical component of America's health care safety net community, we understand that the adoption and implementation of electronic healthcare record technology is an important step in providing effective and efficient healthcare," said Patricia White, Executive Director of West Virginia Health Right and the President of the West Virginia Association of Free Clinics. "The MITECH Act will allow free and charitable clinics and other members of the safety net to develop the necessary tools to continue to serve our patients on a daily basis."
The existing federal incentive "meaningful use" program, created by the HITECH Act, has helped thousands of health providers nationwide implement and use electronic health records systems. But many health providers and free clinics serving low-income patients have not been able to qualify for these incentives, even though their patients are predominately low-income. In many states, Medicaid eligibility levels for adults are so low that thousands of people can't afford health care, but they also don't qualify for Medicaid. This makes it difficult for many of these clinics to meet the 30 percent Medicaid patient threshold required to participate in the Medicaid electronic health records incentive program.
Congress has already fixed this problem so that rural health centers and Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) now quality for the "meaningful use" program. The MITECH Act would close the remaining gap by expanding this federal program to cover clinics and providers where 30 percent of the patients are low-income individuals.