For so many years, healthcare IT has enjoyed full bipartisan support. Now, a recent call from House Republican leaders for a halt to the meaningful use incentive program - so close to the election - begs the question: does health IT ever get caught up in political warfare? Take an historic look at party stands on healthcare IT over the past eight years.
In 2004, President George W. Bush called for the widespread adoption of electronic health records within 10 years, doubling funding to $100 million for federal demonstration projects on healthcare IT, and creating a new sub-Cabinet position of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, by executive order. Above, he visits with staff at St. Luke's Health System in Lee's Summit, Mo. in 2007, as he continued his push for health IT.
On June 16, 2005, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced The Health Technology to Enhance Quality Act. The bill set aside $125 million for health IT infrastructure projects and called for the codification of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The bill was never passed.
In February 2006, President George W. Bush called for $169 million in funding for healthcare IT initiatives as part of his close to $700 billion fiscal year 2007 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services. The number represented a slight increase from previous requests of $125 million for healthcare IT activities. President Bush's $2.8 trillion FY2007 budget proposal also provided $116 million for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
On Jan. 9, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama outlined his plans for an economic recovery package that included a pledge for $10 billion a year over five years to promote healthcare IT adoption. Like Bush, he also called for EHRs for every American by 2014.
In the HIE Symposium's opening keynote in March 2010, Rep. Phil Gingrey, MD (R-Ga.), said using the stimulus bill to drive adoption of integrated EMRs is "absolutely the right thing to do." Gingrey called the bipartisan health IT efforts "the single most important thing we can do" to bring down the cost of healthcare.
President Obama's 2010 fiscal year federal budget proposal, released May 8, 2009, included $879 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated $63 billion increase over fiscal year 2009. Obama's plan called for $635 billion over 10 years as a "down payment" toward health reform. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called it "a smart investment."
In 2011, bipartisan bickering over health reform and the budget left little energy for introducing or passing healthcare IT bills. In March 2011, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) reintroduced the Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act, with co-sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), to expand the use of telehealth technology under Medicare in rural and other underserved areas. The bill was first introduced in 2009, but never made it out of committee. In 2012, the revised version is still stuck in committee.
The results of the Obama Administration's health IT incentive program have been "breathtaking," Farzad Mostashari, MD, asserted in his keynote address at the HIMSS 2012 conference in February. "We've made more progress in two years than we've made in 20," said Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology. He predicted that by next year, the majority of care providers would be doing their work electronically - and not on paper.
"I regret that the [2012 presidential election] platforms are largely silent on HIT. Perhaps it's not a sexy topic, but it's essential to our efforts to improve the quality of care and contain costs." - Jim Douglas, former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), now a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Governor's Council
"We support technology enhancements for health records and data systems while affirming patient privacy and ownership of health information." - 2012 Republican National Party Platform
"We will ensure that America has a 21st century digital infrastructure - robust wired and wireless broadband capability, a smarter electrical grid, and upgraded information technology infrastructure in key sectors such as health care and education." - 2012 Democratic National Party Platform
On Mitt Romney's official 2012 campaign website, he lists the facilitation of health IT interoperability as one of the key steps for U.S. healthcare reform.
"Competition drives improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, offering consumers higher quality goods and services at lower cost. It can have the same effect in the health care system, if given the chance to work," he says.
Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, along with House committee chairs Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Wally Herger (R-Calif.) and Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) are calling for a halt in the so-far $7-billion EHR incentive program, to allow the government to correct course before the final Stage 2 rule takes effect in 2014--while also pointing out the budget constraints, a major election issue for both parties."Stage 2 rules ask less of providers and does less for program efficiency," Camp and his colleagues wrote in an Oct. 4, 2012 letter to HHS. The timing of the letter is noteworthy because it falls five months after the Stage 2 proposal was closed for public comment, but just one month before the election.