National Consumer, Employer Groups Express Support, Make Recommendations on Proposed Definition of Meaningful Use of Health IT

WASHINGTON, DC - March 15, 2010 -Four of the nation's leading consumer organizations - AARP, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), Consumers Union, the National Partnership for Women & Families, and a leading employer organization - the Pacific Business Group on Health - joined together today to commend the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) proposed definition of meaningful use of HIT. The groups urged CMS to stand firm in the face of industry opposition in order to guarantee that patients and their families see a tangible benefit when billions of their taxpayer dollars go toward supporting the effective use of HIT in clinical settings.

"The proposed rule strikes the right balance between accelerating the use of HIT to improve health care and providing the necessary supports and assistance to help providers make meaningful change. Attempts to weaken the definition by focusing just on simple adoption would undermine the promise of HIT," says Christine Bechtel, Vice President of the National Partnership for Women & Families and member of the federal HIT Policy Committee. "Consumers and patients must benefit from this massive public investment. We are convinced that CMS is on the right track to ensure that taxpayer money is well-spent. These criteria are achievable because they are based on the capabilities of today's EHRs, and what is already being done by some providers. Now it's time to incentivize all providers to move beyond the status quo."

The meaningful use incentive program is voluntary and meant to encourage and support providers in adopting and using health IT in ways that benefit their patients. Consumer experts, along with employers and purchasers, are vigorously challenging the critics who claim that the criteria are not achievable in the timeframe established by the HITECH law.

"AARP believes the proposed regulations will help move the nation substantially toward the goal of improving health care quality through the meaningful use of information technology," says John Rother, AARP's executive vice president for policy and strategy. "Patients deserve higher quality, safety, and efficiency than exists in our health system today. We believe the financial support that providers will receive for HIT must translate into better results for patients."

Not only are the criteria outlined by CMS attainable according to consumer and employer groups, they are necessary in order to reduce errors and improve patient safety. "America's employers understand that information technology has long been essential to succeeding in the competitive marketplace. With this extraordinary public funding and the very reasonable timeline set by CMS, health care providers should act now to meet society's basic expectations for patient safety, clinical quality, and responsive service," says David Lansky, President and CEO of the Pacific Business Group on Health.

"E-prescribing is already expanding rapidly based on existing incentives" adds Steven Findlay, Senior Health Policy Analyst at Consumers Union. "The proposed meaningful use regulations up the ante on that and give doctors new tools and impetus to prescribe the right medicines, and reduce prescription errors and potentially dangerous drug-drug interactions."

Patient privacy advocates are also supportive of CMS' definition. "Ensuring privacy and security of health information in electronic records is critical to building and maintaining public trust in e-health," says Deven McGraw, Director of the Health Privacy Project at CDT. "Providers and hospitals must be required to comply with the minimal privacy and security provisions in meaningful use, as well as any applicable law, as an important first step to building this trust."

The four consumer organizations are members of the Consumer Partnership for eHealth (CPeH), a coalition of consumer, patient and labor groups led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, that has been working on HIT issues for more than five years. In their comment letter to CMS, the coalition recommends several changes to further strengthen the proposed definition of meaningful use including specific steps to communicate with patients more effectively and provide them with better access to their own health information. The group also suggests strategic ways to use HIT to reduce health disparities and improve health care quality overall.

Billions in public funding hang in the balance as "meaningful use" is defined. How funds are distributed should translate into unmistakable benefits for patients and families, CPeH members say.

CPeH's public comment letter to CMS can be read here. The National Partnership's fact sheet is available at: 10 Arguments You May Have Heard about the Meaningful Use Proposed Rule... And the Consumer Response.

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