Lawmakers call for 'reboot' of Meaningful Use program

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Six Republican Senators have formally requested that U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provide a written plan to address how the agency is implementing the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

In an April 16 letter--signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John Thune (R-S.D.)--they state that Congress has an obligation to conduct oversight of government programs. To that end, they released a 28-page white paper entitled "REBOOT: Re-Examining the Strategies Needed to Successfully Adopt Health IT" that outlines their concerns with current health IT policy, including the costs, interoperability, the potential for waste and abuse, patient privacy and sustainability.    

"[W]e have significant concerns with the implementation of the HITECH Act to date, including the lack of data to support the Administration's assertions that this taxpayer investment is being appropriately spent and actually achieving the goal of interoperable health IT," the senators said in the letter.

The senators asked Sebelius to respond to the concerns cited in the white paper with a written plan, and to provide additional information, such as a list of all contracts awarded under the HITECH Act and the agency's evaluation of state programs, a task required by HITECH. Expressing a desire for "robust dialogue," the senators gave a deadline of June 16.

This is not the first time that Congress has expressed concerns about health IT. Last October, four House republicans urged Sebelius to change the course of the Meaningful Use program, and asked that its incentive payments be frozen until the agency promulgated universal interoperable standards. Last June, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) asked HHS to improve the safety of EHR systems, piggybacking on the Institute of Medicine's 2011 report outlining similar concerns.

To learn more:
- read the letter (.pdf)
- here's the senators' white paper (.pdf)

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