State CIOs focus on updating IT for national healthcare

Survey finds that most expect continued budget cutting during the process of preparing health IT systems

State government CIOs are focusing on upgrading IT systems to support some 24 million people expected to be using state health insurance exchanges by 2019 as part of the national health care legislation passed by Congress late last year.

A National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) study released last month found that CIOs are preparing for new standards and provisions coming under the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The study, dubbed Profiles of Progress 4: State Health IT Initiatives, is a compendium of activity underway by CIOs in U.S. states and provinces.

By 2019, provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are projected to increase Medicaid enrollment by 16 million people, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Combined with current enrollees, the number of people getting health insurance through state programs is expected to reach 24 million.

"The main concern of CIOs right now seems to be anticipating what's to come," said Chad Grant, a NASCIO policy analyst.

"Their IT infrastructure needs to be prepared for the massive influx of new [Medicaid] recipients," Grant added. "If they're not prepared, it could jam up the system. They need to make sure legacy systems, if outdated, get updated."

Grant said it's encouraging that CIOs are planning to use an "enterprise-wide" approach to link various agencies, and that they are working to find ways to connect future statewide health information exchanges (HIEs) to the larger National Health Information Network currently being developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Sharing information is one goal," he said. "That's going to save money from not having all that additional overhead."

Over the next four years, provisions under the health care legslation, signed by President Barack Obama in March, will offer incentives to businesses for providing health care benefits and establishing HIEs. The exchanges will allow patient information to be accessed by multiple authorized state agencies, as well as by providers of medical care.

In March, 56 states, eligible territories, and qualified State Designated Entities received more than $547 million in federal money to begin rolling out IT systems that support an expanded Medicaid system.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an additional $51 million to the states to help set up HIEs by 2014. The legislation called for establishing HIEs to make it easier for consumers and businesses compare health insurance coverage options.

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