Lawmakers call for pause in MU program

‘Perhaps meaningful use has set the bar too low’
By Tom Sullivan
12:00 AM

The Senate Finance Committee held two hearings in July on health information technology, where some senators called for a pause in the federal government's electronic health records meaningful use incentive program.

Trying to soften the sting of his remarks by iterating that he does not want to see progress stalled on health IT adoption, Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch explained 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 July 17 Senate Finance Committee hearing.

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

At the hearing, witness Farzad Mostashari, MD, national coordinator for health information technology disagreed. "A pause would stall the progress that's been hard fought," he said.

Patrick Conway, MD, chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 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.

"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. The funds help offset the cost," Hatch explained. "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.