TMA: Boost Tech With COVID-19 Relief Funds
By Joey Berlin

With connectivity on its mind, the House of Medicine logged in to a dialogue with state leaders and inputted its first official suggestions about how to distribute $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

In a letter last week, the Texas Medical Association – along with the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, the Texas E-Health Alliance, and other state health societies – offered several ways American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding could be used to bolster health information technology (HIT) in the Lone Star State. The Texas Legislature will allocate the funds during its third special session of the year, which kicks off Sept. 20.

Medicine’s letter was addressed to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont); and several other key state lawmakers, including Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood), and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), chairs of the respective budget committees in the House and Senate.

TMA and the other organizations’ asks for HIT – and, eventually, other facets of health care – will be limited to one-time expenditures because the legislature likely won’t use the ARPA money for any items that require ongoing funding.

TMA’s letter asked the state leaders to consider using some of the funds for five HIT-related measures:

  • Provide for connection fees to statewide and regional health information exchanges (HIEs) for electronic health records (EHRs) for physicians, clinics, hospitals, and other health care facilities.
  • Accelerate implementation of a “gateway” that helps connect state agency technological systems with hospitals and physician practices, among others. Those systems include the Vendor Drug Program, the state’s immunization registry, and other registries at the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
  • Continue funding support for physician/practitioner access to the state’s prescription monitoring program, PMP Aware, to continue integrating EHRs with the program and “allow vital information to flow seamlessly to physicians, hospitals, and providers at the point of care.”
  • Provide integration channels for HIT workforce development programs to connect graduates with the job market. The objective would include “providing support to physicians and health care facilities that have encountered staff costs for additional required documentation during the COVID-19 public health emergency for such actions as manual input to … the state’s immunization registry, and other actions as part of the disaster response.”
  • Support additional broadband access for health care professionals and patients, including small physician practices that don’t qualify for federal broadband grants and may not have the internet connection needed to offer virtual care.

TMA and the other organizations noted they will continue “to explore additional, innovative one-time uses of ARPA funds” and will submit those requests separately.

Last Updated On

September 13, 2021

Originally Published On

September 13, 2021

Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393
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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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