HHS proposes exemption from anti-kickback laws for health IT

The Health and Human Services Department last week proposed an exception to federal anti-kickback laws that would let physicians receive hardware, software and training from hospitals with which they have a relationship, in order to encourage adoption of electronic health records.

In support of the proposed rule, HHS' Office of the Inspector General outlined conditions for the donation of technology for e-prescribing and electronic health records so that physicians can be exempt from enforcement of the Stark laws banning kickbacks.

The rule would be narrow until HHS approves nationwide product certification standards, for which a contract was ex- pected late last week.

HHS also said it plans later to release the final foundation standards for electronic prescribing that all Medicare prescription drug plans must support when the new Medicare drug plan takes effect Jan. 1, 2006.

Rx for prescriptions

The first set of e-prescribing standards, called for by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2002, include those that are widely used by retail pharmacies and pharmacy benefits managers for eligibility and communications.

The proposals represent a unified effort to allow for greater integration of health IT systems and promote wider adoption of electronic health records, said HHS secretary Mike Leavitt.

Together, e-prescribing and electronic health records will lower costs, reduce errors, improve quality and make health care less of a hassle, according to Leavitt.

'Computer-assisted prescriptions have been shown to cut errors by 70 percent over handwritten prescriptions,' Leavitt said at a press briefing at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, a nonprofit medical group in Washington.

The proposals are the most significant steps in HHS' health IT strategy to date, said David Brailer, the national health IT coordinator at HHS.

'The linkage of these proposals to technology certification will ensure that adoption and interoperability occur together on an urgent basis,' he added.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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