HealthCare.gov wasn't Sebelius' only IT project, just the most high-profile

When U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned last week after five years of service, I wanted to know what members of FierceHealthIT's Editorial Advisory board--comprised of hospital CIOs, attorneys and other health IT experts--thought of the news. After all, while her legacy will always be tied to the Affordable Care Act and, in particular, the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov, the website was far from the only IT-related project she oversaw during her time in Washington.

Most of the board members expressed the same sentiment that, despite change in D.C., life goes on, and, so too, do their efforts to meet federal mandates. John Halamka, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston referred to Sebelius' work as "challenging" and said that it "laid the foundation for the years of healthcare reform implementation ahead."

Meanwhile, Ed Bennett, director of Web and communications technology at the University of Maryland Medical System, called Sebelius a casualty of "a system driven by politics and not results."

Interestingly, though, nobody from the advisory board called Sebelius a failed IT project manager, much the way an InformationWeek commentary did last week.

And in looking at some of the biggest tech-related ventures that came under her purview--and how HHS handled those efforts--it does appear as if Sebelius' track record was mixed.

For instance, depending on who you talk to, the Meaningful Use program to incentivize the adoption and use of electronic health records in a meaningful way is either highly successful, a work in progress or in need of a reboot. Stage 2, in particular, has had plenty of challenges, with many of the primary hospital CIO stakeholders involved pleading with HHS for a deadline extension before the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it would make hardship exemptions more flexible for participants.

The program has been a success, to varying degrees, but much work remains in the latter two stages before the industry can consider it a win.

Then there's ICD-10. Initially, the industry was supposed to transition to the code set in October 2013, but HHS, in August 2012, pushed back the start date a year, to October 2014. Much to the chagrin of many providers and provider groups, the start date recently was pushed back again, indefinitely, although this time, the decision was out of the hands of HHS and Sebelius.

Still, it's not like everything was rosy before that second delay. Until February, the CMS had no plans to conduct end-to-end ICD-10 testing for providers.The agency finally relented, but only after a barrage of complaints from provider groups including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the Medical Group Management Association.

Halamka was spot on in calling Sebelius' work challenging; and he would know--he, too, is responsible for ensuring the completion of several IT projects simultaneously. Sebelius, however, was in the unenviable position of trying to run those projects in the shadow of partisan politics.

Still, she accepted the job, so the buck ultimately stopped with her. - Dan @FierceHealthIT

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