Healthcare Reform Uncertainty Could Chill Tech Innovation

Threats to repeal legislation could freeze IT initiatives related to key provisions.
With newly elected Republicans in Congress pledging to repeal healthcare reform, you've got to wonder whether those threats will slow healthcare providers' technology innovation efforts.

After all, the deployment and use of IT plays a significant role in the healthcare legislation passed earlier this year. It shows up in the new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) concept and in state insurance exchanges, among other places.

Under the reform legislation, some healthcare providers will start testing out the ACO approach where they coordinate patient care to achieve higher quality care, process efficiencies and cost savings. Successful ACOs will be eligible for Medicare financial incentives.

IT is a critical component to making these organizations work. They'll require a lot of data sharing and patient management applications to coordinate care, improve processes and monitor costs.

At the same time, hospitals and doctors across the country are deploying health IT systems, like electronic medical records and computerized physician order entry, to cash in on the HITECH Act's "meaningful use" program. That effort should continue unabated, but it's a safe guess that many healthcare providers are likely to stop short of making further IT investments to participate in an ACO if Obama's healthcare reform provisions appear to be in jeopardy.

The same goes for state insurance exchanges. Healthcare reform calls for states to create mechanisms to help individuals and small businesses shop for, select and enroll in affordable private health plans.

These exchanges are slated to launch in 2014. Just last week the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services announced a program to provide grants to early innovators for the development of these tech-enabled marketplaces.

Five states or coalitions of states will be awarded these grants in February. The dollar amounts haven't been specified yet.

Whether the new Congress has any shot of repealing President Obama's healthcare reform remains to be seen. My gut tells me that won't happen. But talk of a repeal is very apt to have a chilling effect on tech initiatives healthcare providers and states are undertaking.

If they haven't already done it, I'm sure there will be CIOs and CFOs taking another look at IT budgets and pausing over line items for programs that might be getting a second look from Congress.

Hopefully, threats about repealing the reform legislation won't give procrastinators another excuse to fall back on old IT-laggard ways.

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