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HITECH Deadlines Slipping Away?

April 23, 2009
by aguerra
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This morning, Modern Healthcare reported that Republicans in the Senate have blocked a confirmation vote on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as HHS secretary. Unfortunately, this holds up the starting gun for serious work at HHS, while HITECH’s deadlines remain fixed. Thus, the timeline for defining such important elements as “meaningful use” shrinks by the day. If the struggle to get a Secretary in place is protracted for months, or even only weeks, work could be hamstrung, leaving little time for comments and industry-wide debate on critical definitions.

One of those involved, John Glaser, recently wrote that the coming months will be critical to shaping healthcare for decades to come, as bars are set for hospitals and physicians to reach. Of course, John is right, meaning we need to move forward deliberately, cautiously and without excessive haste. But it appears haste is going to the order of the day if Congress takes its usual grinding approach to the HHS nomination.

Only government could issue tight deadlines for incentive payments, while leaving the criteria for meeting them infinitely vague. Only government could then find itself unable to formulate those definitions in a timely manner so as to give the entities involved even the slightest chance of fulfilling them. Of course, only government has $19 billion to throw around. So we watch and wait and guess. We write more editorials and blog posts, do more Webinars and have more conversations.

Looked at in a positive light, however, each and every one of these conversations yields something, some new insight, some observation. Rather than being discouraged with the delay, let’s make the most of it. Let’s keep thinking and planning, so when the starting gun finally sounds, we’re quick off the block.

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