November 5, 2010 – Two veteran observers of Capitol Hill don't see major health information technology policy changes coming following the Nov. 2 election and change of power in the U.S. House, but there could be some tweaking.
Most folks in Washington haven't centered on the IT piece of health policy as reform got much more publicity and attention, says Dan Rode, vice president of policy and government relations at the American Health Information Management Association. "That said, there will be a situation in the House where all expenditures will be looked at very closely," he cautions.
Does that mean there's a chance that some Republican members might start wondering why tens of billions of dollars are slated for spending on electronic health records meaningful use incentives? "I think they will be at least questioned," Rode says. But he adds that the meaningful use funds will be paid incrementally over several years and health IT has had bipartisan support for many years.
The change in House leadership, however, could compel some providers who are not eligible for meaningful use incentives, such as long-term care providers, to take a shot at getting in, Rode says. The bottom line on meaningful use, he believes, is that the program will be safe but the administration will have to justify its use of the funds. Certainly, no new money will come into the program. "So, will there be enough momentum in Stage 1 to send a signal to Congress that this is a successful program?" he asks. There's not much time for an answer, as Congress will be working on the 2012 budget starting in March.
Despite the GOP congressional gains, there is not a lot of support for tweaking the HITECH Act, says Justin Barnes, vice president at EHR vendor Greenway Medical Technologies Inc. and past president of the HIMSS Electronic Health Records Vendors Association. He sees no worry that meaningful use will go away, as there is support on both sides of the aisle for the program's goals.
Information technology provisions in Accountable Care Act to reform health care could be more affected by the GOP takeover of the House. Republicans are paying far more attention to reform than HITECH, Barnes notes. But for all the bluster during the election season, Republicans will have limited ability to change the reform law because they don't control the Senate and President Obama still has a veto pen.
Whether mandates to adopt operating rules to tighten the HIPAA transactions and build state health insurance exchanges remain will depend on feedback from middle and small businesses, Rode expects. There may be some House members calling for a pullback on insurance exchanges, but it's not clear what reaction they'd get from consumers.
But the reform debate will far more center on overall issues of health care delivery and payment, accountable care organizations, liability reform and FDA regulation, Barnes believes.
This originally appeared on Health Data Management.