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Electronic health records provide $400M payoff for FL

Doctors and hospitals in Florida have received over $404 million from the federal health agency as a reward for switching from paper to electronic health records, according to data released Tuesday.

In the year since the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program began, 6,752 Florida health-care providers have received the payments, federal officials said.

Nationally, more than 110,000 doctors and 2,400 hospitals received the incentive payments since they began in May 2011; the payout so far totals $5.7 billion.

Congress approved the incentive program separately from the Affordable Care Act, so it is not at risk in the pending Supreme Court ruling on the act, expected in the next 10 days. Florida led more than two dozen states in a lawsuit, claiming the act is unconstitutional.

The program is managed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in cooperation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. ONC provides grants to regional extension centers, which provide Health IT experts who can train and support doctors as they go through the learning curve.

Federal websites say Florida has four regional centers:

--University of South Floridain Tampa.

--University of Central Floridain Orlando.

--South Florida Regional Extension Center Collaborative in Miami.

--Rural and North Florida Regional Extension Center, sponsored by the Community Health Centers Alliance.

It isn't enough for doctors to convert their offices to electronic health records (EHR's) and then go on using paper; to be eligible for the payments, they must make what the government calls "meaningful use" of the new system.

The program was created in the hope that EHRs would improve communication and coordination among healht-care providers in ways that would lead to better, safer care and lower costs.

Under the Medicare EHR incentive program, doctors can earn as much as $44,000 over five years; under Medicaid, they can receive as much as $63,750 over six years.

Hospitals stand to receive millions of dollars for implementing EHR technology.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.