President’s 2016 budget request has meaningful use in its sights

The Department of Health & Human Services has issued its proposed budget for the fiscal year 2016. A portion of the funding will be put toward expanding the benefits of meaningful use through enhancing interoperability and health information exchange. Several of the divisions within the HHS have been tasked with putting the $83.8 billion budget to good use. 

Meaningful use a priority for 3 departments
This billion-dollar funding is a part of President Obama's 2016 budget request proposal. The $83.8 billion budget comes in the form of discretionary funding that is centered primarily around the implementation and sustainability of the Affordable Care Act.

Meaningful use specifically is a priority for three departments within the HHS. The first is the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, which was given $23 million with the task of using $20 million of it to work on a total of 55 grants. Each grant will focus on finding evidence to justify the large national investment in health IT to enhance the safety, quality and effectiveness of health care.

"This portfolio operates in close coordination with other federal health IT programs in order to leverage resources and maximize their impact," the authors of the HHS budget brief explained. "For example, this research creates the evidence base and data that are utilized by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to inform Meaningful Use Stage 3."

Of the $83.8 billion, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology also received a significant portion of the funding. The ONC now has a spending level of $92 million – $32 million more than the organization's past budget – that will go toward improving interoperability and meaningful use. The federal agency has been challenged with the greatest number of meaningful use obligations to complete by the end of 2016.

"In FY 2016, ONC's investments will reflect a greater focus on interoperability through standards development, certification, and governance structures to support the requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 3," the brief states.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has the smallest role in encouraging meaningful use enrollment among providers. The EHR Incentive Programs are intended to help improve prevention coordination and patient outcomes. However, meaningful use is only one part of the many activities planned for the CMS under the Improving Medicare Post-Acute Care Transformation Act of 2014.

ONC obligations for FY 2016
Responsibilities of the ONC can be categorized into five groups. The first consists of three subparts, including standards, interoperability and certification. To fulfill this task, the ONC will concentrate on the investments that are necessary for the development of health IT standards, certification and testing the interoperability initiatives that have the potential to make leveraging stage 3 meaningful use easier.

The second category is policy development and coordination. The ONC will expand its certification program to assist providers and health care organizations that are ineligible for meaningful use. The goal is to provide them with much-needed regulatory guidance.

Governance of health information exchange is the agency's third responsibility, which involves the switch to a governance approach to make sure that the exchange of health information is consistent with health data privacy and security. The ONC must ensure that HIEs are following a common set of practices, policies and standards.

The federal agency will also offer federal technical support through instead of local resources for its fourth obligation, which, like the first responsibility, consists of three subgroups – adoption, utilization and meaningful use.  

Focusing on consumer eHealth is the last of the ONC's five obligations for FY 2016. eHealth will allow doctors and patients to access electronic health records in a way that ensures convenience and safety.