Obama in Maine to tout health reform, governor calls IT critical

By Mike Miliard
05:45 PM

President Barack Obama roused an enthusiastic crowd in support of his landmark health reform in Maine on Thursday, touting a new course that will "build on the system of private health insurance that we already have," making coverage "more secure and more affordable" for those who already have it, and allowing those who don't have coverage to "finally be able to get it."

As it does, he pledged, "costs will come down for families, businesses, and the federal government, reducing our deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades."

The president's speech was primarily about the tax breaks that will allow small businesses to provide coverage to their employees (see more at Healthcare Finance News), and the new regulations that will set rules for who insurance companies must allow onto their rolls.

But before Obama took the stage Maine Gov. John Baldacci spoke about a crucial, if little-discussed component of how healthcare reform will be put into practice: healthcare information technology.

Maine has been an early leader in the adoption of medical technology. Its statewide HealthInfoNet is one of the first, biggest and most comprehensive health information exchanges in the country. Baldacci also touted athenahealth, the maker of practice management software and EMRs, and NotifyMD, which runs the nation’s largest HIPAA-compliant after-hours medical answering service – each have operational sites in the state and employ hundreds of Mainers between them.

Information technology "plays a huge role" in medical reform, governor Baldacci told Healthcare IT News. "A huge role. It's going to be through medical information technology that you're going to enhance the ability of the providers to give quality care but also do it in a way that will reduce costs. It's a critical element that needs to be part of this."

The new healthcare reform, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, includes rules for quality reporting, meant to amass data on provider outcomes and, ultimately, make payment contingent on quality care.

That information will be gathered and disseminated via IT such as electronic health records and health information exchanges. "To the extent practicable, data on such quality measures is … to be collected using health information technologies," the law reads.

The legislation also stipulates that the secretary of Health and Human Services will "address gaps in quality, efficiency, comparative effectiveness information, and health outcomes measures and data aggregation techniques … enhance the use of health care data to improve quality, efficiency, transparency, and outcomes … [and] improve research and dissemination of strategies and best practices to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors, preventable admissions and readmissions, and health care-associated infections."

Later, on stage, Obama's words were about health insurance and small business, about politics and the economy. But they could just as easily have been about the recent advances in health IT, the myriad new technologies that are working in concert to improve healthcare while lowering costs.

"Portland, the road to this victory has been long and it has been difficult. And reaching this milestone does not represent the end of all our problems. We still have jobs to create and deficits to reduce and children to educate.  We still face enormous challenges in this country.
But what this fight has taught us – about ourselves and about this country – is so much bigger than any one issue. It has reminded us that change is never easy, but it is always possible. It reminds us that in the United States of America, we still have the power to shape our own destiny. It has reminded us that we, as a people, do not shrink from a challenge. We overcome it. We do not shirk our responsibility. We embrace it. We do not fear the future. We shape the future."