Could Meaningful Use Be Axed In Fiscal Cliff Battle?

In past items, my colleague John and I have weighed in on the issue of whether a change of administration could endanger the Meaningful Use program.  We concluded, in summary, that the program has too much momentum to fall to the budget axe that easily.

Now, in the light of an article by a colleague, I’m rethinking my view a bit. In an excellent column for Health Data Management, Joseph Goedert suggests that the so-called “fiscal cliff” has changed everything for the Meaningful Use program. Though the still-sitting president who backed HITECH’s $20 billion spend stayed in office, the House of Representatives remains controlled by the opposition party.

Goedert argues that during the debate over the fiscal cliff negotiations, someone’s going to look at the fat, juicy $20 billion allocated to health information technology — probably the Republicans who have already slammed the program publicly — and target it for budget cutting.  He argues that Democrats are unlikely to push back too hard, given that HITECH is hardly a “sacred cow” that legislators fear to touch.

And then, he says, comes a disaster for the health IT community:  “Whatever federal funds are left to support electronic health records, meaningful use, health I.T. workforce training, health information exchanges, best practices dissemination, regional extension centers and anything else in the HITECH Act will be gone.”

In Goedert’s view, the only way to save HITECH is for individual physicians hospitals to go on a lobbying tear, pounding their representatives and senators, if they don’t want to see Meaningful Use become a casualty of party politics.

I think Goedert has a point.  As he reminds us, eight Republican leaders in the House and Senate finance and health committees have already demanded proof that Meaningful Use is worth the money. And a recent House hearing held to investigate the subject suggests that some members still aren’t satisfied.  Things could get ugly.