Commentary: The effects of sequestration on health IT

Dave Roberts, HIMSS vice president of government relations

For my last article, I shared with you that I have been developing a new professional relationship with my podiatrist. Unfortunately, I had to go back to see him for a shot to my right foot to try to control the severe pain I have been experiencing for about six months.

During this visit, my podiatrist again closed the door “to talk.” This time, he wanted to understand if the government’s failure to pass deficit reduction legislation was going to affect his Medicare reimbursements or EHR meaningful use incentive payments.

My response went something like this:

It is unclear if the two percent across-the-board reduction in Medicare mandated under the sequestration alternative by the Budget Control Act will affect the HITECH Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program.

However, we all know that the HITECH Act-authorized Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program is essential to move our nation toward achieving timely system-wide adoption and Meaningful Use of EHRs. This program serves a critical role in the nation’s healthcare transformation efforts started by President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama, enabling investment in health information technologies (IT) that are essential to the transformation of our healthcare delivery system.

Meaningful Use of electronic health records and health information exchanges (HIEs) are essential components contributing to the transformation of America’s healthcare system and controlling costs long-term. Previous Congresses and Administrations — under the leadership of both political parties — have recognized the enormous potential value of health IT. Many bipartisan leaders agree that this foundational program merits continued congressional support and must be preserved.

HIMSS appreciates the difficulty and seriousness of the federal budget challenge facing the Congress and the hard work of all the Members of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, often called the “Supercommittee.” Regrettably, the Supercommittee was unable to reach consensus on how to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years, and so the across-the-board “sequestration” spending reductions will be automatically triggered unless Congress can otherwise comply with the requirements of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Under the automatic sequestration process, Medicare provider and health plan payments will face across-the-board reductions of up to two percent starting in 2013. The automatic Medicare cuts are reductions in payments to doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers. The trigger does not include any direct cuts to Medicare benefits. 

HIMSS recognizes that rapidly escalating healthcare costs and the way America pays for healthcare are major components of the government’s expenditures problems. However, HIMSS cautions against solutions that just shift spending from one part of the healthcare system to another, or that do not consider long-term implications.

Health information technology is the most promising investment America can make not only to improve the quality of care but for containment of national healthcare costs. HIMSS encourages Congress to continue its strong bipartisan support for health information technology.

What concerns do you have now that the Supercommittee has failed to reach a deal? What do you think is going to happen in 2012?

Let’s hope the government can figure out how to continue progress in transforming healthcare and that I don’t need to see my podiatrist anytime soon!

This article originally appeared on the HIMSS Blog.