Politics rears its ugly head in healthcare IT

By Jeff Rowe
12:07 AM

The "Party of No" strikes again.

While the healthcare industry is poised to transform itself into a 21st century healthcare delivery system and the federal incentive funds for the meaningful use of health IT begins its first year of qualification and payout, the Republican-led House of Representatives is trying to bring it all down.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) introduced the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 408) on January 24. The bill's aim is to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years by eliminating several federal programs, including stimulus provisions under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - namely the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

It could mean that the $27 billion set aside for healthcare providers who adopt EHRs under the ARRA/HITECH Act of 2009 would see their incentives funds eliminated should the bill pass.

Apparently, Jordan's Republican Study Committee also proclaimed that the enacted legislation would "further prohibit any FY 2011 funding from being used to carry out any provision of the Democrat government takeover of health care, or to defend the health care law against any lawsuit challenging any provision of the act."

At this point in the game, passage of the bill is unlikely, given the Democratic-controlled Senate and a sure veto from President Obama. But for any healthcare IT advocate, the action is ominous and should not be taken lightly.

For one, such legislation in the early stages of meeting meaningful use of healthcare IT throws chaos into the current environment, in which a great many healthcare providers are just embarking on the transformative journey. Nice piece of sabotage work, guys.

Second, it obviously sets the stage for the next round of elections, which could tip Senate control to the Republicans.

Is hatred of Obama worth derailing technological advances in the healthcare industry and wasting all the time and resources spent trying to align the healthcare delivery system with other industries that have embraced information technology? Must these single-minded politicians play politics with a system in which politics really should have little role?

Do they remember which president proclaimed that all Americans should have EHRs by 2014 in the first place?

I'd like these legislators to travel around the country to regions and communities that have advanced healthcare IT and health information exchanges, and talk to these stakeholders about why they have taken on the very difficult task of adopting these technologies.

If they did so, they'd learn about the desire and vision of healthcare IT professionals to improve the quality and continuity of care in their communities.

The move to fund healthcare IT adoption is not about power or control or hate. It's always been about the patients.

Photo by irrational_cat courtesy of Creative Commons license.