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Yet Another Dramatic Moment to Conclude a Year of Drama

December 20, 2012
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Even in late December, the whirlwind of policy- and industry-related developments has stormed on

The dramatic December 19 announcement by Allscripts that its CEO, Glen Tullman, had resigned, and that a replacement for Tullman had already been named, capped a year of drama, not only for the Chicago-based software vendor, but for all of healthcare and healthcare IT. Indeed, while Tullman had been involved in what at times seemed like an almost continuous swirl of drama at his company, to be fair, there were remarkably few in healthcare and healthcare IT who this year had been immune to a broader whirlwind of drama that at times seemed to sweep all of U.S. healthcare into its wake.

There was the dramatic announcement during the middle of the HIMSS Conference of the much-anticipated proposed rule to Stage 2 of meaningful use, with an accompanying administrative mishap that caused that actual live announcement to be delayed by a precious couple of days, so that, as one PR person for a major consulting firm told me on the Thursday of HIMSS12, “Here we flew all our top analysts into Las Vegas on Saturday so that they could be ready for the announcement to drop, and then it got delayed until today, when they’ve all just gotten on planes to go back home!”

And there was perhaps the most dramatic single moment of the year for those of us covering anything related to healthcare policy, when the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was handed down at about 10:07 AM eastern time on June 28, and journalists of all stripes—mainstream media and trade and specialty media alike—scrambled to gather the core facts of the decision and report them out to their audiences as quickly as possible. In the event, two major national broadcast networks, CNN and Fox News, actually got their initial reporting of the core decision wrong, misunderstanding as they reported the ruling live, the fact of the high court’s upholding the law’s constitutionality, but based on a different legal premise from the one some had expected.

Long will I remember that moment, as I was in Southern California covering the AMDIS Physician Symposium in Ojai, where it was three hours earlier—just 7:07 local time—and I had arisen extra-early in order to be ready for the publication of the decision, which had seemed to be ready to be announced a couple of times earlier that week, but which, we all learned the evening before, would indeed be made public on Thursday morning.

Still in my hotel, I rapidly scanned the live, constantly self-updating SCOTUSBLOG website (to which several hundred thousand other people had also gravitated at the exact same moment) while also watching network news reporters read live from the decision on the steps of the Supreme Court building, it was a fun, if exceptionally nerve-wracking, experience to try to write an accurate summary of the core points of the ruling as quickly as possible, before rushing off to the conference to get CMIO and industry analyst reactions to the ruling, as my wonderful colleagues and fellow HCI editorial team members dashed to their phones to contact CIOs, industry analysts, and others for their reactions to that historic ruling.

Then there was the release on August 23 of the Stage 2 final rule for meaningful use, which caught nearly everyone by surprise, as it landed at the end of the business day on a Thursday afternoon in late August—a time when it was almost guaranteed that it would be very difficult to reach industry leaders for comment! Whether or not anyone at ONC had planned it that way or not (I suspect not, actually), the precise timing of that release certainly added a dash of drama to what had been until that moment a rather quiet summer afternoon.

Meanwhile, at least when it came to the November 6 presidential and congressional elections, everyone knew when the event was going to take place…! But of course, with polls indicating all sorts of possible outcomes, voters and journalists across the country could count on nothing until all the votes were counted—which in some cases in Senate and House elections, and in a few states like Florida, in the presidential election—actually came days, even a week, later.

But at least the outcomes, once known, provided a new measure of clarity with regard to healthcare policy, though now, even as I write this, the two major national political parties are locked in some combination of tense negotiations, fierce political infighting, and dramatic press briefings, as efforts to resolve the cache of federal budgetary and policy issues collectively described in Beltway shorthand as the “fiscal cliff” continue, down to the wire, as the year-end holidays near. As of this moment, it appears that we will “go over the cliff,” in “fiscal cliff” parlance, meaning that President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, and everyone else, will need to come back to Washington in early January in order to work out those issues, the resolution of which will have a profound impact on healthcare providers next year and in the coming years.