Meaningful Use incentives jeopardized by GOP bill

Despite news Thursday that support for H.R. 408--the Republican-sponsored House bill aimed at cutting $2.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade--could mean the repeal of the Meaningful Use incentive program allotted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, some people, including Justin Barnes, former leader of the HIMSS Electronic Health Records Association, have said they aren't worried. 

Barnes, who now serves as vice president of marketing, corporate development and government affairs at Greenway Medical Technologies, calls the bill more of a "message bill" than anything else. 

"I have zero concern about it taking away the incentives," he told Health Data Management. "It is a campaign promise." 

Geoff Gerhardt, a senior staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee, didn't think it would amount to much, either. "I do think there may be a legislative attempt in the House to try to change some of the funding; however, I am confident that it's not going to succeed at the end of the day," Gerhardt said. 

The bill, according to HDM, would repeal some ARRA provisions specific to Meaningful Use. Specifically, Section 302 of the bill states: "Effective on the date of the enactment of this Act, subtitles B and C of Title II and Titles III through VII of Division B of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [Public Law 111-5] are repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such provisions of Division B are restored or revived as if such provisions of Division B had not been enacted." 

Meaningful Use falls under Title IV of Division B, which means those incentive dollars would disappear if the bill became law, according to HDM

Meanwhile, confusion abounds over the future of the Healthcare Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, should the bill be successful. HITECH falls under Division A, Title XIII of H.R. 408, meaning, for the most part, it steers clear of the chopping block. 

However, Section 301 of the bill puts "un-obligated balances of the discretionary appropriations made available by Division A" of the stimulus law in jeopardy. In other words, if any of the $2 billion in discretionary spending money allotted to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT from HITECH goes unspent, it could be taken back, as well. 

All of that has HIMSS Vice President for government relations Dave Roberts just a little on edge, reports Healthcare IT News

"We're trying to tell people that this process is going on. This is only one body [of Congress]. Don't let this be a concern," he said. But "if this is a new way of thinking, that could be concerning. So I think that while this particular bill may not pass, it's something that has to be watched closely." 

Patti Dodgren, CEO of Hielix--which helps to facilitate electronic health information exchanges across the U.S., shares Roberts' view. 

"Just the suggestion of repealing HITECH stimulus funds for short-sighted at best, and threatens the very progress that is already beginning to be realized within the industry to move our healthcare system into the 20th [yes, 20th] Century," Dodgen told FierceHealthIT. "All this bill serves to do is strengthen the cynics of health IT.  We work with thousands of physicians and state government healthcare officials who have worked tirelessly over the past months to achieve the benefits that healthcare IT promises, and this bill is a disservice to them and to the healthcare industry" 

For more information:
- look at the bill for yourself
- read this Health Data Management article
- check out this accompanying HDM piece
- here's the Healthcare IT News story
- read this AJMC press release