Consumer, business groups call for tough MU rules, but providers may win this one

Just about every provider-related organization out there has called on CMS to scale back its requirements for "meaningful use" of EMRs, at least for Stage 1 of the Medicare and Medicaid incentive program. Other than HIMSS, I can't think of any groups--provider or otherwise--that want the bar kept high.

That changed this week. A coalition of more than 50 consumer and employer interests sent a letter to various HHS officials calling on CMS and ONC not to water down the final rules for meaningful use. "A final rule that does not lay a clear path in the first year toward tangible improvements in quality and lay the foundation for the systemic changes necessary for reform could waste taxpayer dollars and not launch us on the needed course for the future," reads the letter, signed by such organizations as the National Business Group on Health, AARP, Wal-Mart Stores and the Service Employees International Union.

"The meaningful use incentive program is just that--an incentive program. It is not a mandate, and it does not constitute regulation of the healthcare industry. Providers who want to implement HIT on a different timeline and with their own resources can do so," they add.

The groups do express their support for a recommendation by the Health IT Policy Committee that CMS allow providers to defer compliance with about 20 percent of the functional requirements, as long as participants can't defer quality measurement, privacy and security protection and--this is a big one--"patient and family engagement."

Says the letter: "Delaying the foundational elements included in the robust proposed definition of meaningful use for 2011 will not only squander the golden opportunity provided by HITECH, but will also jeopardize the success of this administration's bold work to reform our health care system."

As a taxpayer, that's refreshing to hear. I don't want my money squandered on technology implementation that doesn't do much to improve the quality of care. As a healthcare consumer--like virtually everyone else--I'd like to think that IT will help me take a more active role in my own care.

As someone who's followed the health IT industry for a decade and federal regulation for nearly two decades, I'm not so sure the business and consumer groups will get their way, except perhaps on the privacy issue. The provider lobby is strong in Washington. - Neil