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GOP Senators: HITECH Program Needs to be Rebooted

April 16, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Six Republican Senators have released a whitepaper that argues Congress and the Obama administration need to reboot the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the efforts to deploy health IT, because the current program is deficient.

The whitepaper, “REBOOT: Re-examining the Strategies Needed to Successfully Adopt Health IT,” is the work of Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). The Senators say the failed implementation of health IT through HITECH can be summed up in five points:

  • Lack of Clear Path Toward Interoperability
  • Increased Costs
  • Lack of Oversight
  • Patient Privacy at Risk
  • Program Sustainability

On interoperability, the Senators say that federal incentive payments have been delivered without an adequate plan to ensure providers can share information with each other. This, they note, is supposed to be a huge part of the HITECH Act, and the $35 billion program of grants and incentive payments.

Citing “early reports,” the Senators say “health IT may have actually accelerated the ordering of unnecessary care as well as increased billing for the same procedures.” The technology was promised as a means of creating efficiencies and cutting costs.

In terms of oversight, the Senators cite reports from the HHS Inspector General (IG), the Government Accountability Office, and other stakeholders that say the government does not haveadequate mechanisms in place to prevent waste and fraud in its health IT programs. “Taxpayer dollars are being paid to providers who cannot or do not have to demonstrate that the health IT technology is actually used as prescribed, because the administration relies on provider “self-attestation” in many cases to determine eligibility for payments,” the Senators write in the whitepaper.

The Senators further cite HHS IG on reports that say the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) are “lax” when it comes to security procedures. Lastly, they question the sustainability of the HITECH program, and whether it’s cost feasible once the initial grant money runs out.

“We present this white paper in an effort to initiate a dialogue with the administration and the stakeholder community. The purpose of this paper is to foster cooperation between all stakeholders – including providers, patients, EHR vendor companies, and the Department of Health and Human Services – to address the issues raised in this white paper, evaluate the return on investment to date, and ensure this program is implemented wisely,” the Senators write.

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