HHS urges Congress to include IT adoption in physician payment fix bill

By Diana Manos
12:00 AM
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Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt urged Congress yesterday to include a requirement for doctors to use electronic health records as part of any proposed Medicare physician payment bill.

On Nov. 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a final rule calling for a 10.1 percent reduction in payment rates for physicians beginning Jan. 1, 2008.

Physician groups hope to have this reversed by last minute legislation before Congress breaks for the holidays, and for the last five years, Congress has intervened to temporarily suspend requirements the would require decreases.

Despite Leavitt's call for healthcare IT adoption, a physician payment fix bill already faces strain. Congress' last-minute deferral of a 5 percent cut to Medicare reimbursements last year puts extra pressure on retaining the cut this year.

"In my view, any new bill should require physicians to implement health information technology that meets department standards in order to be eligible for higher payments from Medicare," Leavitt said. "I'm confident that many members of Congress are of a like mind on this issue and I will actively work with them in the near future."

 

Leavitt's call for incorporating healthcare IT adoption into a physician payment fix bill follows pressure last month from members of the HHS healthcare IT advisory panel, the American Health Information Community, to force adoption.

Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel Corporation said after 17 meetings of AHIC, doctors are no closer to adoption. "Where are we? "We are moving ever so cautiously and slowly on it but we could make a giant step toward patient safety," Barrett said.

Leavitt seemed to agree. "When do you reach the tipping point that you can require the use of this technology," Leavitt told AHIC members. "There will be a point where we have to go against that divide."

Still others are more concerned with access. In a Nov. 8 letter to President Bush, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) argued against the "fatally flawed" formula, known as the sustainable growth rate formula, behind the physician payment cut. "[W}hile a 10 percent cut in 2008 is completely indefensible, it doesn't end there," Stabenow said. "It defies common sense to think that payment rates that are lower today than they were six years ago will be enough to maintain the access to care that our seniors need."

Preliminary results of a study released last month by the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Policy shows physician healthcare IT adoption continues to hang at 10 percent or lower. The cost of healthcare IT adoption and concerns over interoperability are among the main reasons cited by doctors for resistance to purchasing electronic health record systems, the study said.

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