Leavitt: HIT standards development slow, but U.S. on the right track

Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services during the second term of President George W. Bush, expressed strong support for the Obama Administration's health IT incentive program during a keynote speech at CHIME's Fall CIO Forum this week in San Antonio.

Responding to a question about how he would rate the program, Leavitt said, "I would have loved to have had $18 billion" for health IT when he ran the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

"I support the fact that we've invested so heavily in health IT," he continued. "And during this time, Meaningful Use is also a positive. The process of standards development isn't going fast enough and we're going to have standards lag behind regulations. But we're generally on the right track."

While it might seem strange that a former high official in a Republican administration would praise a Democratic initiative, Leavitt promoted health IT heavily during his time at HHS. In doing so, he was following the instructions of President Bush, who in 2004 had called for all Americans to have electronic health records within 10 years.

Among other things, Leavitt is remembered for setting up a public-private process to create standards for the interoperability of health IT systems. That initiative has continued under the Obama Administration, with key decisions being made by the government after consultation with private advisory bodies.

Another questioner asked Leavitt whether he saw any conflict coming out of simultaneously implementing Meaningful Use and ICD-10.

"We have no alternative to accomplishing both," he replied. "We're being driven by more than deadlines. We're being driven by a Darwinian imperative to bend the cost curve. We're going to see deadlines that are softened but will help us get there."