Critics target HITECH incentive program

To borrow a phrase from Ross Perot, “that giant sucking sound you hear” may be the sound of health IT proponents gasping in the face of recent calls to suspend temporarily -- or even cancel outright -- the HITECH incentive plan.

The call for a temporary suspension comes from four congressmen.  Actually, they’re not just congressmen; they’re the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the chairs of their subcommittees on health.

In other words, these are folks with clout.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the four lawmakers criticize the incentive program in light of the fact that there are still no universally applicable interoperability standards for EHRs.  In short, they suggest, why encourage providers to move to EHRs when the EHRs still can’t talk to each other?

But lest you think the lawmakers, all Republicans, are coming at the issue simply from a “fiscal responsibility” standpoint, their other concern runs precisely counter to that.  Specifically, they argue that the meaningful use standards don’t have enough teeth to make them really worthwhile.  And they want to ramp them up significantly.

Meanwhile, another group, the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, is taking the lawmakers’ suggestion a step further and calling for HITECH to be cancelled altogether.

They contend that the private market is simply a better way to resolve the issue of interoperability, among other things, and their president also argues that “the problems that the government continues to ignore are privacy and patient consent; no EHR program should move forward until every American has a guaranteed right of consent over the use and sharing of their private medical records.”

Now, we don’t expect many readers to support either of these two recommendations, but we’re curious as to how you think policymakers should respond.  After all, the interoperability conundrum is a hot issue, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps disbursement of public funds should be put on hold until a solution is found.

What do you think?