Alabama Medicaid Agency Expands Health IT Program

Published May 1, 2009

The Alabama Medicaid Agency is expanding its nine-county pilot program implementing an electronic health information exchange system that will link Medicaid, Blue Cross Blue Shield, physicians, and patients across the state.

The effort is part of Together for Quality, an Alabama Medicaid-led initiative to unify the state’s claims into a patient-centered, cost-effective system.

“This Medicaid initiative is remarkably good,” said Michael Ciamarra, a member of the state Medicaid Agency’s Stakeholder Council and vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy organization based in Birmingham.

“The first question that we ask when it comes to health reform is, ‘What’s going to work?’ We must focus on health information technology. This certainly represents progress along the path to reforming Medicaid, bringing it up to date technologically, and reducing all the inefficiencies in the system. We think it’s a great thing,” Ciamarra added.

Easier Info Access

The program is intended to transform Medicaid by making it easier for health care providers to access and use information about patients and allowing state agencies and providers to share information.

The program’s development and expansion are being supported by a $7.6 million federal grant.

“I think we had an opportunity with the transformation grant funding to do something we believed in for a long time, and that was using technology to provide more complete information about our patients,” said Kim Davis-Allen, director of the transformation initiative division at the Alabama Medicaid Agency.

According to a news release by the agency, the goals of the Together for Quality program include improving chronic disease case management; preventing patients from receiving the same procedures more times than necessary; reducing costs; enhancing public health, disease surveillance, and disaster preparedness; and otherwise decreasing costs and increasing efficiency and information available to providers.

Health IT Benefits Noted

“An e-health system will also cut down on fraud, exposing unscrupulous providers who file for the same procedure multiple times in a day,” said Ciamarra. “It’s secure, it’s efficient, it’s cost-effective, and we think that putting this technology in place is one important step in the transformation of our health care system, particularly in the Medicaid system.”

“The network will not only link the Alabama Medicaid Agency to Blue Cross Blue Shield but will also allow physicians to enter patient and treatment information into the system and to access information input by other providers,” said Davis-Allen.

“Right now, Alabama doctors are adapting to the system,” Davis-Allen said. “The federal grant allowed the Alabama Medicaid Agency to give some grants of their own to physicians, enabling them to buy e-health software or computers.”

Physicians Seeing Value

“Physicians are getting used to using the systems, and they are beginning to see the value of the information offered,” Davis-Allen said. “Unless they saw the value of the information offered, they weren’t going to change their process, and even if they did see the value, it would take a while for the transition. The key to getting any sort of change is a constant reinforcement.”

Ciamarra said the program would likely save Medicaid money, thus saving state and federal taxpayer dollars.

“For the first time in years, Alabama policymakers are looking at Medicaid and thinking through long-term solutions rather than just the perennial crisis of Medicaid’s funding shortfalls,” Ciamarra said.

Jillian Melchior ([email protected]) writes from Michigan. Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.