ONC Seeks to Pay for Greater Share of Regional Extension Centers' Operations

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The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology announced Jan. 24 it would fund regional extension centers at higher levels than the federal REC grants originally allowed for the last two years of the four-year programs.

ONC said in a Federal Register notice--which will be published Jan. 25--that it would seek to modify the four-year grant deals so that RECs would be responsible for just 10 percent of their costs in years three and four, with the federal government picking up the remaining 90 percent of their costs as it did in the first two years of the program.

The grants initially established cost-sharing requirements that meant RECs were responsible for paying for 10 percent of their operations in years one and two of the program, jumping to a 90-percent cost-sharing requirement in years three and four.

However, ONC said in the notice that “national economic conditions” are preventing RECs from meeting the cost-sharing requirements under the grants and could be “detrimental” to the REC program.

“Through these modifications, the timeline would be lengthened in the first budget period from two years to four years, and the cost-sharing requirement would reflect a 90/10 federal/grantee cost share for all four years,” according to the ONC notice. “Modifications will be effectuated through the execution of revised Notice of Grant Awards (NGA).”

ONC has awarded grants to 62 RECs since February 2010, using $677 million appropriated under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act for such projects.

RECs are responsible for helping health care providers, particularly critical access hospitals and primary care clinicians in small and rural practices, with adopting and implementing electronic health records.

Sustainability of RECs has been a health IT industry concern as organizations have worked to develop local funding models.

“Funding for the full four years of the Regional Extension Centers program is critical to the success of the centers' efforts to develop programs to support the meaningful adoption of EHRs,” Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Executive Vice President Carla Smith told BNA Jan. 24. “HIMSS looks forward to continuing to support the success of the REC program through our educational and professional development resources.”

A prepublication copy of the notice is available at http://op.bna.com/hl.nsf/r?Open=kcpk-8detq9.