ONC budget request sends a strong message about the growing importance of health IT

Federal health information technology efforts received a proverbial shot in the arm last week when President Obama unveiled his proposed budget for FY2016.

In the budget, the president allocates $92 million to support the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. That's $32 million more than ONC has ever received in its almost 11-year history, and $17 million more than last year's ambitious funding request of $75 million.

As recent history has shown, there is absolutely zero guarantee that ONC will see one dime more than the $60 million annual sum officials with the agency have grown to know and love. After all, between national security and cybersecurity--particularly in light of the recently announced Anthem data breach in which personal information for 80 million customers was compromised--national priorities likely lie elsewhere at the moment.

Still, because ONC's efforts--particularly around interoperability--align with the president's newly announced and highly touted Precision Medicine Initiative, that makes ONC a more vital cog in an agenda the White House clearly wants to push. What's more, requesting $92 million sends a more pronounced message that interoperability needs to happen in more than just regional patches of the U.S., as National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo mentioned at last week's ONC annual meeting.

In addition, health IT, it seems, has never been a hotter topic among legislators in both parties. For instance, in talking to a number of industry stakeholders, the recently reintroduced Sensible Oversight for Technology which Advances Regulatory Efficiency (SOFTWARE) Act--which divides health IT into two categories: medical software to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and health software that won't be regulated--very likely could end up being passed into law by year's end.

"It's a [Rep. Marsha] Blackburn/[Rep. Gene] Green bill in the House and a [Sen. Michael] Bennet/[Sen. Orrin] Hatch bill in the Senate," Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White told FierceHealthIT. "These are not shrinking violets; these are the leaders in their parties. Both have said 'this is important enough to cross party boundaries; we're going to get this done.'"

Even though the SOFTWARE Act is separate from ONC funding, the point is that if ever there was a time to request increased funding for health IT, it's now. While the odds may appear to be against Obama on some issues--with a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate--health IT growth clearly is an issue with bipartisan support.

Better to at least try to strike while the iron is hot. - Dan (@Dan_Bowman and @FierceHealthIT)