Sebelius: HIT key to ACOs, improved care

Health IT is essential not only to accountable care organizations (ACO) but also healthcare in general, said HIT advocate Kathleen Sebelius, MPA, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (pictured), at today's Second National Accountable Care Organization Summit in Washington, D.C.

Four out of five hospitals are already working toward EHR systems, indicating the fastest growing trend in healthcare adoption in the U.S. and the world, according to Sebelius.

In addition to HIT as one of the key components to ACOs, Sebelius emphasized the need for ACOs, despite recent reactions toward the draft rules.

Reactions from organizations and providers have ranged from lukewarm ambivalence to visceral outrage from some of the leading health systems and professional physician associations.

Sebelius, who commended Don Berwick for his role in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid's (CMS) proposed rules, called him the right person for the right time. She acknowledged that the proposed draft was just that, a proposal. CMS is currently reviewing 1,200 comments after it issued the draft rules in March and is expected to take the comments into consideration before issuing a final rule.

Currently, the fee-for-service Medicare system doesn't align financial incentives with improved care, Sebelius noted. For example, an empty bed doesn't generate more money for the hospital. ACOs, on the other hand, create a new platform for innovative care, shifting into a model that rewards preventative care, she noted.

"Improving care, I think, is the best way to reduce costs," said Sebelius. "It's clear we're not moving fast enough."

Even with the touted benefits of ACOs, Sebelius warns that they have to offer something truly new.

"ACOs can't be the status quo with a new name," said Sebelius. Public payment reform of Medicare and Medicaid is a huge step but one with enormous payoff, she said.