President Donald Trump wants to trim nearly $22 million from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) next year, a move that would eliminate several programs and significantly realign the agency's priorities in the coming years.
Working with less than two-thirds of the funding that it’s had in years past, the ONC would focus most of its efforts on policy, governance and standards, and do away with programs that focus on health IT adoption, care transformation, usability and privacy and security.
ONC National Coordinator Donald Rucker outlined these shifts in a Congressional Justification report for the FY 2018 budget released on Tuesday, emphasizing the agency's renewed focus on improving interoperability and easing the burdens of EHRs. His letter echoed comments from Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at Health Datapalooza last month.
The document offered a more detailed look at how the agency would operate under the proposed budget. The ONC would trim less than $1 million from its policy development and coordination program and nearly $3.5 million from standards, interoperability and certification.
However, both of those programs would add 26 full-time employees to their roster, many which would be reallocated from other parts of the agency.
Meanwhile programs overseeing health IT adoption will be reduced to $2.1 million, down from $11.2 million, cutting 37 employees as ONC phases out several programs geared toward helping providers adopt health IT systems. Rucker noted that 84% of non-federal acute care hospitals and 58% of office-based physicians have adopted EHRs as of 2015.
The ONC would close out the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer, although it would continue to offer “limited support” for the Chief Privacy Officer position. The ONC would also wind down two programs dedicated to care transformation and close out the Office of Clinical Quality and Safety.
“This budget prioritizes work in the areas of policy coordination and standards as we work with stakeholders to achieve this goal," Rucker wrote. "In addition, we will engage our stakeholder community and develop policies that improve the usability of EHRs. These priorities will allow us to support efficient medical care and advance the health of the country.”
In March, Health IT Now called on Price to review whether ONC had exceeded its authority outlined in the HITECH Act. On Tuesday, several other health IT organizations lamented the president’s proposed cuts to ONC and other agencies with IT-driven initiatives.
“The proposed cuts to various agencies within HHS including ONC, CDC, Medicaid, and NIH, combined with the proposed elimination of the AHRQ, sends the wrong message that the U.S. is not fulfilling Congress’ intention of maintaining the U.S. as the leading voice on medical innovation,” Thomas Leary, vice president of government relations at HIMS said in a statement.