Stimulus shells out $220 million for doctors going digital

Max Frumes | Contributor

The Obama administration gave $220 million Tuesday to 15 programs aimed at digitizing health-care information around the country. During a short White House ceremony, Vice President Joe Biden, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at his side, offered some anecdotes to explain the need for making health-care records available electronically.

“I’d just be grateful not having to fill out that form in the [doctor’s office], Biden said.

While the press release announcing the grants, which are funded from the stimulus law, will eventually provide “tens of thousands” of jobs, Biden said the grants would  create 1,100 jobs “upfront” at an average annual salary of $70,000. That would mean that the money would last 2.9 years at that salary for that number of jobs. The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for details of the number of jobs created.

Some doubt the numbers touted by the vice president.

“Generally, assertions about the jobs that are created by programs like this are pretty sketchy,” says Kevin Hassett, the director of economic policy for the American Enterprise Institute.

Hassett questioned whether grants whose main initiative is information technology would create jobs for people who would not otherwise have them. Such qualified workers are hard to come by and not struggling to find jobs.

“If they create increased demand for IT guys, chances are it will just bid up their wages,” Hassett said. “I doubt this program will create any jobs at all.”

The hope is that the federal funding will jumpstart self-sustaining businesses, according to Dr. James Walker, the chief health information officer for one of the recipients, Geisinger Clinic.

Geisinger, a health care system in Danville, Pa., will hire 30 to 50 people with its $16.1 million, according to Walker, and plans to expand beyond its five-county area.

All recipients will get between $11.9 and $16.1 million for work that federal health officials hope will serve as examples for other programs around the country. The money comes from the $787 billion stimulus act signed into law last year; $2 billion was set aside for information technology.

Another recipient, the Community Services Council of Tulsa, Okla., serves 11 counties, two universities and several hospital systems.  Collaborators include the Indian Health Service, a veterans hospital and local authorities like the fire department and police department.

Dr. David Kendrick, a physician at the University of Oklahoma and point man for CSC’s program, said that the money will create dozen of jobs immediately, but for a new type of workforce.

“We’re building a smarter workforce out of this and the result is we’re getting better health care out of it, too,” Kendrick said.

Tags : th united states congress american enterprise institute american recovery and reinvestment act department of health and human services government joe biden kathleen sebelius obama administration stimulus united states white house
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