With less than 100 days to go before the November 6th general election, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, both received a letter with a similar message. Penned by HIMSS president Stephen Lieber and HIMSS board chair Willa Fields, the missive urges both political parties to frame language in their party platforms that signals continued support for health IT so that patients and healthcare providers can have access to "the right information on the right patient at the right time."
The HIMSS strategy has worked in the past: In 2008 the society succeeded in its efforts to encourage both parties to include language into their party platform to support health IT initiatives. "Four years ago, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama were talking about healthcare. Sen. Obama ended up winning the presidential election and using information technology to transform healthcare became a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) legislation," Dave Roberts, HIMSS vice president, Government Relations, said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allocated $19.2 billion to support the adoption of health IT. The Obama administration provided an additional $27 billion to establish the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, in which hospitals and physician practices can apply for reimbursements once they've implemented EHRs and met Meaningful Use requirements.
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The Obama administration's decision to fund health IT marked a change from the outgoing Republican administration of President George W. Bush, Roberts observes.
"The difference between President Obama and President Bush was that President Bush gave the leadership to the program but he did not believe that federal tax dollars should be used for the program. President Obama believes not only should we provide leadership, but we should provide funding to jumpstart this under the name of economic stimulus. That was a big difference," Roberts said.
Outlining the benefits of the Obama administration's investment in health IT, the letter from HIMSS states that health IT adoption can reduce healthcare disparities, improve clinical research, promote early detection and prevention, provide better management of chronic diseases, and expand available resources and capabilities.
"Moreover, the benefits of health IT must be made available to currently underserved populations such as minorities, inner cities, and rural communities. This broad application of health IT should include the ability to fully employ telemedicine, electronic prescribing, use of mobile devices, and expansion of other technology to improve the access and quality of care to underserved communities where it would otherwise not be available," the letter states.
Roberts noted that investment in health IT is still one of the few policy areas that receives bipartisan support in today's contentious political climate, but this could change, and the need to continue to fund programs like the EHR Incentive Programs or initiatives to build health information exchanges remain critical to the development of a new national health IT infrastructure.
"There are many different ways that the progress we are making could be sidetracked. One way is through legislation, another way is to stop the regulations to implement legislation, or Congress could stop funding the programs and say we're just not going to spend this money," Roberts said.
The Republicans hold their National Convention in Tampa, Fla., August 27-30, while the Democratic National Convention will take place in Charlotte, N.C., September 3-6th.
InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)