The first major distribution of HITECH Act funds occurred a couple of weeks ago when HHS awarded nearly $1 billion for HIT initiatives including $386 million to 40 states and territories to help establish public Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). This represents the lion’s share of the original $564 million allocated for Statewide HIE development under ARRA.
Sixteen states did not receive funds including some of the largest states (by population) including Texas, Florida, and New Jersey. Other states not receiving funding in this first round include: Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, and South Dakota. These states will likely receive funding in the next round. Additionally, there were a couple of awards that were bizarre including minor awards (~$700k) to some U.S. territories including Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas. Almost kind of inevitable it seems when the federal government gets involved in handing out large amounts of cash. Everybody wants to make sure to grab their respective piece of the pie however small it may be.
Funding Requirements (or how to get the $$$):
In its Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) last August 2009, the ONC identified 5 “Essential” Domains for HIE funding:
- Technical Infrastructure
- Business and Technical Operations
The ONC expectations were that states will define objectives, set goals, and measure progress within the context of these five domains. This also includes the submission of a plan, approved by the Department of Human and Health Services, that describes the activities to facilitate and expand the electronic movement and use of HIE according to nationally recognized standards and implementation specifications.
To specifically get the funding, states had to submit an initial application by October 15th to the Department of Human and Health Services. Additionally, states also have to submit a Strategic and Operational Plan. The Strategic Plan contains the State’s vision, goals, objectives and strategies for statewide HIE including the plans to support provider adoption. The Operational Plan contains a detailed explanation, targets, dates for execution of the Strategic Plan. Basically, states applying for funding fell into 3 general groups:
- States with no existing Strategic Plan – These states needed to provide a detailed description of activities to develop Strategic and Operational Plans by October 15th. Subsequently, the state is expected to develop and submit their initial Strategic and Operational Plans within 6 –8 months of receiving their funding. A limited number of states fell into this group including Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, New Hamphsire, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
- States with existing Strategic and/or Operational Plans that are not consistent with ONC criteria – These states submitted existing Plans with a detailed gap analysis compared to ONC’s criteria and a plan for revision by October 15th. Subsequently, these states were to submit updated Strategic and Operational Plans in alignment with ONC criteria within 3 months of funding. Almost all of the states fall into this category with about half needing to further align their Strategic/Operational Plans with ONC criteria required prior to the Implementation phase and the other half needing additional planning efforts required prior to the Implementation phase.
- States with existing Strategic and/or Operational Plans that are consistent with ONC criteria – These states submitted their Plans for approval by ONC, including a description of health IT implementation to date and the plan for continued implementation. Only 4 states (Delaware, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah) submitted Operational Plans by October 15th.
Once the State’s Strategic and Operational Plans are approved, the State is free to begin to use the HIE funds for ‘Implementation purposes.’ From a Technical perspective, this means that the State can use these funds to select a vendor, sign a contract and begin actual development of the HIE infrastructure.
Impact on HIE Vendors
Several states, including Alaska, Maryland, and West Virginia, assumed future funding was in the bag and released RFPs in the later months of 2009. Now that the awards are official, states across the country (and territories) will work with consultants to finalize their Strategic Plans and begin looking for an HIE vendor. In total, about 20-22 states are expected to issue RFPs for technical infrastructure over the next 6-12 months.
This is creating a giant land grab as vendors vie for position to tap this windfall of State HIE funding. Some of the RFPs, such as the one from West Virginia in late November, elicited interest from dozens of various Health IT vendors.Officials from the West Virginia Health Information Network stated they received a ‘significant number’ of responses to their RFP although they refused to cite the exact number.
All of this activity is creating a great deal of confusion in the market for those looking for an HIE solution. HIT vendors of all strips are now claiming to be HIE vendors to tap into this new found source of funding. One could even argue that IBM’s recent acquisition of Initiate was to some extent prompted by all this activity in the HIE market. While numerous HIT vendors claim they have an HIE solution, only a handful have a solution that meets current and immediate future needs of the statewide HIEs. Most others have specific HIE functionality elements, but not necessarily the full solution package. Our forth-coming HIE Market Report (hope to have it on the streets by end of March) will seek to provide clarity by providing a market classification schema.
Vendors are also facing several challenges responding to these RFPs, primary among them, little commonality from one state to the next. The most obvious one is that each state has their own unique approach to their technical architecture. They range from Idaho with its desire for a single statewide network (Idaho Health Data Exchange) to Indiana with multiple, independent, local HIEs, and no statewide architecture. Additionally, most states are issuing RFPs that include a number of use cases that go beyond just basic data exchange functions. While the statewide HIEs obviously need to plan for the future, it is creating uncertainty among vendors in how they respond and price their solutions given that some of the use cases outlined in an RFP may never be implemented.
While being rewarded with a statewide HIE contract represents a significant win for a vendor, especially for smaller vendors, the real value (i.e., money to be made) is not from the initial contract of simply ‘connecting the pipes.’ The long-term value will come from deploying higher-value add applications and services such as analytics, quality reporting, transactional services which typically are 5x-7x more lucrative than basic data exchange services. Data exchange is but the «tip of the iceberg» to far more lucrative opportunities and is why vendors are competing so hard for these contracts.
No Clear Leader
Our research has not identified any clear leader in the state HIE market today. Part of the reason for this is that few states have begun the process selecting an HIE vendor, let alone go live with a solution. If pressured, we would give the leadership crown to Axolotl who has had almost a singular focus on such public exchanges and now supports 4 statewide HIEs. Axolotl’s leadership, however is a tenuous one as there are several other vendors with at least one statewide HIE client including Medicity, Intersystems, and GE Healthcare. This market is clearly one that is wide open and we foresee significant activity in the coming 9-12 months. Let the Great Land Grab of 2010 commence!
Note to Readers: In giving credit to where credit is due, Matt Guldin, who is leading Chilmark Research’s HIE research for our forthcoming report, authored this post. Thank you Matt for a very informative post.