Stakeholders criticize HITECH critics


This being peak political season, it seems appropriate, given the opportunity, to pull the curtain back on how politics, for better or worse, often works.

To understand the issue at hand, we need to look back at one of the provisions of the HITECH Act.  In particular, we’re talking about the creation and funding of the Regional Extension Centers (RECs) that were intended to give technical support to providers making the move to EHRs.

Back in July, the RECs got together and formed the Association of Regional Centers of Health Information Technology (ARCH-IT), the purpose of which is to represent and provide assistance to the RECs, as well as, according to the group’s president, “encourage Congress to provide additional money to the RECs after their funding runs out in 2013.”

Now fast forward to a letter that some federal lawmakers sent to HHS Secretary Sebelius just recently, calling for the suspension of the HITECH incentive payments pending improvements to the program.

Not surprisingly, the newly formed association has issued a press release in which it says “this would be an unfortunate development at a time when the healthcare sector is poised to make some significant gains.”

According to Jonathan Fuchs, ARCH-IT’s president, “The House letter to Secretary Sebelius suggests that the ultimate desire is to further spur on the deployment of HIT around the country, and we wholly agree with this sentiment.  However, retracting or suspending the program would run completely counter to this goal by undermining the federal commitment to HIT expansion.”

So what’s our issue?  After all, it’s easy to argue that REC stakeholders are best able to determine the impact of a move like cutting off the incentives.  But it’s just as easy to point out that they aren’t exactly disinterested observers.

And that’s the point. Lobbying lawmakers is one of our fundamental rights, but we’d suggest the situation gets a little murky when those doing the lobbying probably wouldn’t have their stake in the game had the lawmakers not funded them in the first place.

In other words, public funding leads to the creation of employees who banded together to form a group that lobbies for, among other things, more public funding.

Again, that’s the way the system works.  But we’d like to think that policymakers will make their decisions based on objective analyses of the situations at hand.  In this case, while we’re not holding our breath, if HHS were to act either for or against the advice of the lawmakers who sent the letter, we hope it would be because of a clear-eyed assessment of the incentive programs, and not because of the understandable, yet obviously biased, concerns of stakeholders whose immediate interests are threatened.