Last Wednesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives (+3 Democrats) voted to repeal the health-care reforms signed into law by President Obama less than 1 year ago. Although the 245-189 vote made good on a GOP mid-term election promise, it was largely symbolic. The Senate is not likely to consider (much less pass) the bill, nor would it ever get past an Obama veto.
Yet, reform of reform is in the air. Spending cuts as the path to deficit reduction are mentioned in every news cycle. It’s possible that congressional budget maneuvering will decrease or delay funding for some of the provisions of Obama’s Health Plan (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
Thus, it’s not surprising that some healthcare IT professionals wonder if the potential $29 billion in EHR meaningful use incentive payments promised under the HITECH Act are secure. During our January 20th webinar “Assessing HIPAA/HITECH Risks: What You Need to Know,” I was asked this question several times.
My response? I believe that the HITECH Act will proceed as planned with full funding. Here’s why:
1) HITECH was passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and not part of Obama’s healthcare reform initiative. It had broad bi-partisan support. As Allscripts Healthcare Solutions CEO Glen Tullman told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog, “Healthcare IT is a nonpartisan issue.”
2) The goal of HITECH was to create jobs and begin a massive overhaul of the US healthcare system. Right after the mid-terms, Politico healthcare reporter Jennifer Haberkorn addressed a HIMSS press briefing and said cutting back HITECH was “not on the radar. The attitude on [Capitol] Hill is that health IT funding is creating jobs.”
3) In addition to creating jobs, HITECH provides the foundation for an even broader national economic goal: increasing the efficiency and competitiveness of the U.S. healthcare system in one of the worlds’ largest and fastest growth industries (over $2.2 trillion dollars in expenditures per year).
For these reasons and others, I think HITECH funding is safe for now. That said, I urge covered entities to make achieving Stage 1 “meaningful use” of electronic health records, including conducting a HIPAA Risk Analysis, among their highest priorities. The best guarantee for “staying the course” is the success of the program itself.