Hatch calls for 'pause button' on MU

'A pause would stall the progress that’s been hard-fought,' counters Mostashari
By Tom Sullivan
10:15 AM

Trying to soften the sting of his remarks by emphasizing that he does not want to see progress stalled on health IT adoption, Sen. Orrin Hatch nonetheless argued Wednesday that the federal government cannot afford to spend money on programs that are not working.

"It would seem to me that we have an opportunity to push the pause button," and take the pulse of meaningful use, Hatch said during a Finance Committee hearing.

[See also: Republican senators seek ways to improve HITECH implementation]

Doing so would provide more time to hold providers and vendors to high standards, Hatch added, saying "perhaps meaningful use has set the bar too low."

Commenting that Farzad Mostashari’s, MD, bowtie is "a beauty," Hatch asked the national coordinator for health IT if the option of taking a breather makes sense from his purview.

"A pause would stall the progress that’s been hard fought," Mostashari answered, "a pause would take momentum away from progress."

Patrick Conway, MD, chief medical officer at CMS, explained that meaningful use Stage 3 will drive interoperability, health information exchange and patient outcomes, and that the agency is currently evaluating measures and objectives for the next phase of the incentive program.

[See also: EHRA critiques GOP's MU 'reboot' plan]

"Incentives alone cannot sustain the transition to EHRs," Conway said, explaining that CMS programs such as value-based purchasing and accountable care organizations build a business case for providers to sustain their EHRs and other health IT systems over time and, ultimately, facilitate safer more effective care.

Hatch said that it is his hope the U.S. is not judging the success of meaningful use based on dollars pushed out the door but, rather, on demonstrable improvements in overall care.

"We’ve heard from many providers, large and small, and most believe the meaningful use program has spurred investments in technology," he explained. "The funds help offset the cost. For others it was the threat of financial penalty that spurred these investments."

Mostashari said ONC is seeing much more interest in interoperability than in the past and that vendors are saying that efforts to facilitate coordinated care are working, triggering greater need for exchanging patient data.

"While digitization of healthcare is well underway, the redesign of workflows is still in its infancy," Mostashari said, acknowledging that enabling secure health information exchange "is a daunting task."

But through the exercise of multiple policy levers and substantial public-private cooperation, Mostashari added, "We are on the better path" to improving care. 

Montana Sen. Max Baucus said there will be another Finance Committee hearing next week involving providers and technology vendors.