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Epic Hires DC Lobbying Firm To Fight Closed-System Reputation

Posted on September 15, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

For quite some time, everybody’s favorite EMR giant has a “no marketing, no government relations” policy. (In fact, Epic staffers really seem to hate journalists, but maybe they just don’t like me — who knows?)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, reports the ever-watchful HISTalk, it came out that Epic has broken its rule, hiring on DC lobbying firm Card & Associates. While you might think Epic would hire a billion-dollar behemoth, Card is a smallish firm with seven modest accounts and only one healthcare client. It must help, however, that Card is run by the brother of the former White House Chief of Staff under Pres. George W. Bush.

So what made Epic change its standard operating procedure and begin lobbying The Hill? In its federal lobbying disclosure, the EMR firm says that it’s begun lobbying to “educate members of Congress on the interoperability of Epic’s healthcare information technology.”

The timing of the outreach effort isn’t a coincidence, Modern Healthcare astutely notes. As you read this, a team made up of Epic, IBM and a handful of other technology giants are fighting other equally ferocious IT firms to win the roughly $11 billion contract to update the Department of Defense’s clinical systems.

While none of its contract competitors have a strong reputation for interoperability, Epic is seen as much worse, with a RAND Corp. study released in July calling Epic’s systems “closed records.” That had to hurt.

Unless Epic plans to hold health IT classes for Congress over the next several years, I doubt they’ll be able to make their point with largely Luddite Senators and Representatives in Washington on a technical basis. That is, Epic’s lobbyists won’t be able to convince legislators that Epic is interoperable on the merits.

But lobbyists may very well be able to break the ice on The Hill, and sell the idea that those mean, bad old health IT competitors haven’t been telling the truth about Epic. The pitch can include the somewhat matronly CEO, Judith Faulkner, who doesn’t look like the most powerful woman in healthcare or a competitor that would gladly bite your head off and spit it down your neck. Then they can roll out Epic’s pitch that its systems actually are interoperable (between other Epic installs at least). If it sticks even a little bit, whatever the $1.7 billion company spent will have been worth it.

Frankly, I find the idea of portraying Epic as an underdog in any way as downright laughable, and I bet you do too. But I simply can’t imagine another pitch that would work.

ONC Proposes New EMR Vendor Fee

Posted on April 12, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

It looks like federal budget balancing fervor could soon have an impact on EMR vendors (See also this post on EHR Incentive and Sequestration). As part of President Obama’s current budget proposal, the ONC is suggesting that health IT vendors pay about $1 million in fees to help pay for its certification and standards work, reports Modern Healthcare. Collection of the fee, which would probably begin late in the fiscal year, would be collected by ONC-Authorized Certification Bodies.

The proposal is part of the ONC’s section of the overall budget proposal released this week by the Obama Administration. The president’s budget is already causing a stir in healthcare circles outside of IT, as it calls for $5.6 billion in Medicare payment cuts for fiscal 2014.

So what has caused the ONC to look for fresh revenue?  One key reason is that ONC’s $2 billion appropriation from ARRA is scheduled to expire at the end of fiscal 2013, and the agency needs new funds to stay on its feet.

By its logic, the improved testing and certification programs will help vendors save time and money, which justifies their kicking in some money to support the process, Modern Healthcare says.

Not only would the funds gear up the certification program, it would also help maintain ONC’s Certified Health IT product list, as well as its development work around standards for interoperability and policy docs related to HIT certification, the magazine reports.

Without a doubt, the proposed fees will make vendors unhappy, but as I see it they’re just not large enough to justify a major uprising by the health IT community.  The only real issue I see is whether the fees are going to be proportionate to the size of the vendor; if I were a small ambulatory player I’d be quite upset if I paid the same fee as Epic or Cerner.

Otherwise, this fee seems like a relatively small issue, particularly if ONC does a good job of using the funds to improve the certification program. Let’s hope it works out that way.