Physicians to provide electronic medical records under Affordable Care Act

September 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tuesday is the first day of open enrollment for medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Thousands of people across the Valley are expected to use the state-run exchange called Covered California to buy health insurance.

Medical files at Dr. William Ebbeling's office in North Fresno will soon simply be backup. Among the new requirements of the Affordable Care Act is that all physicians and medical facilities across the country provide their patients with electronic medical records.

Dr. Ebbeling and his staff have already made the transition and have undergone training on the new record-keeping system. But he said remaining in compliance is proving difficult.

"Now we have a new phase of it coming in, so we have to train on that we try to stay ahead of it, but it's coming fast and furious,"" Ebbeling said.

It's been a costly move and one that has Dr. Ebbeling concerned about patient privacy. "If the government can't keep its records safe, how are we going to have people going online looking at records and not have hackers gets into them?" Dr. Ebbeling said.

With enrollment starting Tuesday doctors and hospital representatives say there are still many unknowns that will affect their bottom line. Some of the concerns are the lower rate of reimbursement doctors and hospitals will receive from insurers through Covered California.

"So more people with insurance that pay less is an unsustainable formula over time, so hospitals are working daily to reduce their costs and to find a way to deliver the care, within the constructs that is being set up in healthcare reform," Lynne Ashbeck from the Hospital Council said.

But actually getting that care could be a challenge, says Lynne Ashbeck, Regional Vice President of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California. Due to the Valley's doctor shortage, the thousands of newly insured may have a hard time finding a provider, and could still end up where they have before, in hospital emergency rooms.

"What hospitals worry about is having health insurance come Jan. 1 does not mean folks are going to have access to care. Coverage and access are very different and that is going to play out in hospitals and physicians offices across our Valley." Ashbeck said.

At United Health Centers of San Joaquin government grants are helping them prepare for the influx of patients. United Centers of San Joaquin serves about 50,000 patients in eight community centers in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.

"Within the last three months we have actively recruited approximately 13 providers. We have also 17 employees that are currently lined up for training; they are going to become the certified enrollment counselors." Ashbeck said.

United Health Centers of San Joaquin have added a new facility, expanded services at various sites, and have set up a new billing and enrollment center, all in anticipation of patients that may have never been to a doctor before.

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