HIMSS, Patient Privacy Group React to GOP Call for MU Suspension

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By Alex Ruoff  

Two nonprofit health care organizations issued drastically different responses to an Oct. 4 letter from four House Republicans calling for the suspension of incentive payments under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' “meaningful use” program.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society announced Oct. 5 it opposes the lawmakers' call to halt the program, saying there are “clear indicators that government incentives are working.”

On Oct. 8, the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom, a patient privacy advocacy group based in St. Paul, Minn., applauded the request to temporarily cease payments to providers and hospitals and asked the four House leaders to seek to replace the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive programs with a private market solution.

The lawmakers' letter was signed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Wally Herger (R-Calif.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.).

The letter said the final rule for Stage 2 of the Electronic Health Record Incentive programs sets interoperability standards for providers and hospitals too low and "squanders taxpayer dollars and does little, if anything, to improve outcomes for Medicare" (see previous article).

The EHR incentive program spells out the criteria health providers, hospitals, and critical access hospitals must meet to be eligible for what HHS estimates to be more than $15 billion in expected incentive payments. The Stage 2 final rule was published in the Sept. 4 Federal Register (77 Fed. Reg. 53,968).

A Health and Human Services representative told BNA the agency is reviewing the letter.

HIMSS Stands Behind Program.

To rebut the Republican representatives' claim that the meaningful use program has been a waste of money, HIMSS's Oct. 5 statement points to the progress the program has made in pushing hospitals and providers to adopt electronic health record technologies.

Over 2,700 eligible hospitals and 73,000 eligible professionals have attested to Stage 1 of the meaningful use program, HIMSS said. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is partly to thank for that growth, HIMSS said.

“While there is still much work to be done, HIMSS observes that adoption of secure, interoperable health IT systems continues to grow, in part due to the mandate of the HITECH provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” HIMSS said.

CCHF Asks Lawmakers to Go Further.

The privacy of patient health information is being compromised by the push for interoperability and connectivity under HITECH and the meaningful use program, Twila Brase, president of CCHF, said in the release.

The Republican lawmakers should call for the replacement of the program with private market-based solutions that are coupled with consent requirements, she said.

On its own, the health information technology industry will fix the interoperability issues between health care systems that the meaningful use program seeks to address, Brase said.

“States cannot continue to allow their citizens' private health data to float around in a proverbial IT cloud without the patient's consent,” she said. “At stake is patient trust in the entire health care system, and with it access to timely, effective, accurate medical care.”

The letter from HIMSS is available at http://press.himss.org/press-release/public-policy/himss-opposes-call-suspension-ehr-incentive-program.

Information about the Citizen's Council for Health Freedom is available at http://www.cchfreedom.org.

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