As readers of this publication know, your editor has previously held forth on the issue of whether Meaningful Use incentive funds could be cut in the current rush to snip budgets.
With the sequester seemingly moving forward, though, and continued budget-cutting fights underway, it seems a good time to address the matter again. So I’ll plow on, partly in response to a nicely-detailed editorial by Tom Sullivan, editor of Government Health IT.
In his editorial, Sullivan notes that 40 percent of its readers expect health IT’s bipartsan support to continue, while 25 percent argue that opposition to health IT spending is brewing on the Hill. (Another 36 percent of his readers argued that health IT momentum would continue whether or not government keeps on doling out incentive funds.)
But are his readers right about the political climate? To get more insight, Sullivan speaks to some authorities on the subject of health IT spending, including Scott Lundstrom, group vice president of consultancy for IDC’s Health Insights Unit.
In his comments, Lundstrom points out that while there’s probably enough support for health IT capabilities — notably improved processes and quality and controlling healthcare costs — there’s a catch. He suggests that funds from HITECH which pay for the incentives, $10 billion of which still haven’t been disbursed, are a tempting target for budget shrinkers, possibly under the mantle of clawing back stimulus funding.
Lundstrom’s on to something there. Given that the stimulus was not a bipartisan project, it does seem to me that health IT fans may finally have something to worry about. That’s especially true given the letter four congressmen wrote to HHS in September arguing for a halt in Meaningful Use disbursements until better interoperability was achieved.
I’m not a political junkie and have no access to Capitol Hill chatter on this subject. But as a supporter of Meaningful Use payouts generally — if not every detail of their execution — I’m troubled by Lundstrom’s analysis, as I do think the lack of progress on interoperability to date gives MU foes a toehold.
Cutbacks on EMR incentives would probably do little to stop the automation of hospitals. But I think it’s fairly clear that market momentum would not push the reluctant small group practices which are still health IT challenged to pick up costly, confusing, hard to use EMRs without some reward for their efforts. It’s that sector we should be worrying about if the budget cutters’ eye turns to that $10 million incentive reserve.