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Social Security expands health information network

The agency says data exchange has proven beneficial to expediting disability claims.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted March 3, 2010

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The Social Security Administration is expanding on what it has considered a successful demonstration of the Nationwide Health Information Network with the awarding of 15 contracts totaling more than $17 million.

The organization has been testing the use of the NHIN, the result of links between of local health information exchange networks, for the last year by receiving data electronically from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and from MedVirginia, a regional health information exchange in central Virginia. The data are used to help expedite disability claims applications.

With an expected 27% increase in disability claims from 2009 to 2010, the organization is looking to increase the amount of data received electronically. The electronic transfer of information has allowed the organization to decrease the claims processing time from several weeks to days, it said. In some cases, the agency has reported same-day processing.

Among the largest contracts was one worth $1.6 million awarded to the California Regional Health Information Organization, which actually shut down in January after the state failed to recognize it as the governing body for a statewide health information exchange. CalRHIO was unable to reach an agreement with the California e-Health Collaborative to form a joint entity.

Kia S. Green, spokeswoman for the SSA, said it is aware of CalRHIO's closure. The money will likely go to its successor, she said.

But "there are a number of other federal acquisition requirements that must be met by the new entity and agreed to by us," Green said in an e-mail to AMNews. "We will not issue a notice to proceed until these issues are addressed to our satisfaction."

The state has not named a successor as of press time, but several CalRHIO staffers and board members are continuing their work in HIEs.

The Southeastern Michigan Health Assn., a consortium of health departments in southeast Michigan, will receive the largest chunk -- nearly $3 million -- of the grant money. CareSpark, a regional health information exchange in Kingsport, Tenn., that covers east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, will receive nearly $1.4 million.

The grant money the SSA is providing was made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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