This feature start’s your week with three important facts, developments or conversations from recent and upcoming events. Want to keep on top of developments in benefits, health care, finance and employment? Then these are Things You Need to Know.

This week, we’ll look at why uninsured Americans’ hospital bills are so high, more official steps forward by HHS on public exchanges and HHS goals for tech improvements in 2013.


1. Uninsured Americans get hit with biggest hospital bills

By the time Astra Augustus left Virtua Memorial Hospital in New Jersey after the last of four surgeries, she’d run up about $255,000 in bills. Read more>>


2. HHS conditionally approves additional state partnerships

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conditionally approved Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and West Virginia to operate state partnership exchanges. These states were expected to enter into the partnerships with the federal government. The organizations are targeted to be ready for open enrollment beginning in October this year.

This latest announcement brings the total number of states, including the District of Columbia, entering state or partnership exchanges to 24.


3. HHS gets techie

 In other news from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the organization is adding health information technology to its list of potential accomplishments for 2013. The group set goals on Thursday for electronic health records, electronic exchanges across providers and for EHRs within government insurance programs.

HHS says it wants 50% of physician offices using EHRs and 80%of eligible hospitals receiving meaningful use incentive payments by the end of 2013. It also issued an RFI today for examples that enhance the “business case” for communication between health care providers for patients. HHS also highlighted the Blue Button initiative, which provides secure access to information about Medicare patients across platforms, as a program that should be expanded and also adopted by other government associations like the Veterans’ Administration.

“We are already seeing benefits, such as a reduction in hospital readmissions due to these reforms,” says Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acting administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “Health IT and the secure exchange of information across providers are crucial to reforming the system, and must be a routine part of care delivery.” 

The full RFI can be found here: Comments are due by April 21, 2013.

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