Even as President Obama gave a State of the Union address this week in which he celebrated an emerging healthcare system where "patients will be able to have face-to-face video chats with their doctors" and "Veterans can download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse," many Republican lawmakers were rallying around a bill that imperils funding for meaningful use incentives.
[See: Obama gives HIT the nod in State of the Union speech.]
The Spending Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 408), introduced on January 24 by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), seeks to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the coming decade. As it does so, it singles out many federal programs for elimination.
Section 302 of the bill, titled "REPEAL OF CERTAIN STIMULUS PROVISIONS," states that "effective on the date of the enactment of this Act, subtitles B and C of title II and titles III through VII of division B of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5) are repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such provisions of division B are restored or revived as if such provisions of division B had not been enacted."
Since the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs set up under the ARRA/HITECH Act of 2009 fall under division B, it would appear that the $27 billion earmarked for disbursement to healthcare providers to spurring EHR adoption would fall on the chopping block were the bill to ever pass.
For good measure, Jordan's Republican Study Committee also decrees 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."
[That represents a swift about-face from one year ago. See: House votes healthcare overhaul into law, promotes health IT.]
Of course, the bill's passage is hardly assured. The GOP holds majorities in the House, but the Democrats control the Senate. Moreover, this bill or any one like it would surely fall victim to President Obama's veto.
Dave Roberts, vice president of government relations for HIMSS, is less worried about the bill being signed into law than he is about the climate it creates.
The draft has already been referred to 14 different committees in the House, he says, so it's going to be a while before it sees any floor action.
The problem is that it's already "creating confusion in the industry," says Roberts. "We've heard from some CIOs, asking us, 'What is this? We hear the House is going to rescind our money.' It adds to the confusion in the whole marketplace. And providers and hospitals who want to purchase this [technology] are wondering, 'Do I really want to start down this path?'
"We're trying to tell people," he says, "that this process is going on. This is only one body [of Congress]. Don't let this be a concern."
But, Roberts cautions: "We're leading up to the 2012 elections. The Senate's majority is very reduced right now. And if this is a new way of thinking, that could be concerning. So I think that while this particular bill may not pass, it's something that has to be watched closely."