Montana Reinstates Electronic Health Record Incentives

Intense lobbying from the governor and healthcare providers led the state legislature to overturn previous rejections of federal EHR funding.
17 Leading EHR Vendors
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: 17 Leading EHR Vendors
The Montana Senate has voted to restore $35 million in federal incentives for electronic health records (EHRs) for hospitals and community health centers across Montana. The Senate voted 45-5 for the motion on Monday.

The Montana legislature had four times denied, on party-line votes, the state's Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) the authority to accept and distribute federal incentive payments to hospitals. Montana was the only state to turn down federal EHR incentive funds.

The votes to deny funding prompted Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and healthcare providers from across the state to caution Republicans in the legislature that, by refusing funding for EHR technology, they were increasing the cost and lowering the quality of healthcare in Montana.

"If Montana rejects the money, it will be distributed to other states, and Montana providers would be left holding the bag, requiring them to use their own funds for the technology or be left behind," Gov. Schweitzer said in a statement issued March 16. "This harms patients and drives up costs. Electronic health record systems save money and improve care through eliminating the need for duplicative testing."

Under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, up to $27 billion dollars of incentive payments will be distributed to eligible professionals, hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) as they demonstrate adoption, implementation, upgrading, or meaningful use of certified EHR technology.

Montana hospitals and doctors are due to receive an estimated $35 million in federal funding to reduce costs and improve patient care with technology. According to Schweitzer, 504 Montana jobs are tied to the EHR incentive funding.

Schweitzer also said in his statement that the legislature "has stalled and delayed and now, even if they decided to give the department authority, we are not sure the money will be available."

The governor also pointed out that the legislature has cut about $131 million in state and federal funding from the DPHHS budget.

Montana has 47 CAHs in smaller communities across the state; almost all will likely qualify for the funding, because they serve rural populations.

Under the federal EHR Incentive Programs, payments for eligible hospitals and CAHs may begin as early as 2011 and are based on a number of factors, beginning with a $2 million base payment.