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11/17/2011
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Medicare Unveils $1 Billion Healthcare Innovation Challenge

Federal grant program seeks rapidly deployable, sustainable plans to improve care and lower costs.

12 Advances In Medical Robotics
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Slideshow: 12 Advances In Medical Robotics
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will award up to $1 billion in grants for ideas that can deliver quick benefits to the Medicare program in terms of cost savings and higher-quality care.

The program, funded by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will provide three-year grants of $1 million to $30 million--potentially hundreds of awards--to healthcare providers, payers, local government entities, and public-private partnerships, including collaborative efforts among multiple payers.

"Projects that win this competition will use healthcare dollars more wisely, help create jobs, and help professionals improve the work they do for patients," CMS administrator Dr. Donald Berwick wrote on the HealthCare.gov blog this week.

"Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum and usually doesn't start in Washington--we need the vision and experience of people who are already proving that our healthcare providers can and do provide better care and better health at lower cost. So we want to hear from you," Berwick added.

CMS is open to all kinds of ideas, whether they involve technology or not, but an agency spokesman told InformationWeek Healthcare that the agency is expecting IT to be a central part of many of the plans. "Health IT could be an important tool in projects that address some or all of the three-part goals of the innovation challenge grant initiative: better health, better healthcare, and lower costs through improved quality," the spokesman said in an email.

[The feds have big plans for IT. Read U.S. CIO VanRoekel Outlines What's Next For Fed Tech.]

"Whether we are improving the delivery of care to patients or creating infrastructure that will give providers and patients the ability to make real-time informed decisions about their care, health IT is likely to play a significant role in some proposals," said the CMS spokesman, who asked not to be named.

CMS wants to emphasize care improvement and cost reduction for high-risk and "high opportunity" patient populations, according to a program fact sheet. The Medicare agency also is interested in models for developing and deploying a healthcare workforce to implement the proposals, and the plans must be sustainable. "The review process will favor innovative proposals that demonstrate the ability to create the workforce of the future," the fact sheet explicitly stated.

Speed also is important; CMS expects applicants to make their proposals operational--or capable of fast expansion--within six months. "We can't wait" is the mantra the Obama administration has adopted for this grant program, as expressed by Berwick and by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

CMS is taking applications for the Health Care Innovation Challenge at innovations.cms.gov/initiatives/innovation-challenge. Letters of intent to apply are due December 19, while all formal applications must be in by January 27, 2012. CMS expects to announce the winners on or about March 30.

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