NEW ORLEANS — During her speech at the CHIME CIO forum, ONC's Judy Murphy, R.N., put a pretty positive spin on the progress the field is making in achieving meaningful use. She noted that 70 percent of hospitals eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments have been paid.

Several of the CIOs I spoke with weren't as quick to paint such a rosy picture and I'll cover that in the coming days in my continuing coverage from HIMSS.

Murphy also noted that the government had hoped that the industry would more rapidly address the issue of interoperability. Since that hasn't happened as quickly as some were hoping, the feds are stepping in. Stage 2 meaningful use regulations, she said, seek to accelerate interoperability. ONC is developing online training courses to help people better understand what is in the regulations and how to comply.

'Alternative to the shoebox'
A lot of product announcements will be made this week at HIMSS. And while we won't be able to cover all of them, there are a few that will catch your eyes. Take the deal between Citi and Aetna that'll be announced later today. The two titans of banking and insurance are coming together to offer patients a unified place to view, reconcile and pay their health care bills.

Citi is unveiling "Money2 for Health" with Aetna as its charter member. It is being billed as an app that will "simplify and expedite the payment process for patients." Through the unique portal and mobile app, patients will be able to see all of their insurance claims, click on a single payment icon and, voila, their bills are paid.

"Patients are drowning in paper," June Yee Felix, managing director of Citi's enterprise payments division, told me during an interview late last week. "They are trying to sort out all of these bills for all different providers. We are trying to come up with an alternative to the shoebox."

Felix said that the size of the market they are addressing with this solution is close to $1 trillion. She believes that it will "vastly" improve the patient experience and operations for hospitals and doctors.

Interestingly, the Money2 for Health solution is banking agnostic. So, if an Aetna member banks with Chase or some other institution, they can still use the solution. It will also link to a health savings account. Citi is in talks with other large insurers to come on board. The financial institution is making a push to get providers to sign on and accept payments coming from the solution.

Felix estimated that, on average, hospitals signing up could save nearly $5 million for every $1 billion in net patient revenue. Those savings come from streamlined administration of billings and collections procedures, fewer customer service calls and reduced bad debt. The savings could grow as more customers sign up for the service.

Erin Hatzikostas, head of strategy and business development, Aetna Consumer Financial Solutions, said that the solution fits with the insurer's tradition of focusing on "consumer-directed health care. This aligns with our strategy. As we move on with reform implementation, engagement and connection with the consumer will be more important."