Earlier this year, Congress mysteriously hardwired an eleventh-hour ICD-10 delay into the yearly Medicare reimbursement bill known informally as the “doc fix,” which was signed by President Obama without debate. Since then, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced that transition will be Oct. 1, 2015; the earliest Congress would permit it. Last month, two senators and four representatives wrote a letter seeking additional information and assurances that CMS and private industry will be ready to go on that day. On top of that, they asked for regular reporting of “ICD-10 activities associated with both the Medicare and Medicaid programs” to Congress.
Carl Natale, top-notch ICD-10 blogger, thinks the letter could be a precursor to Congressional hearings, which would shape up to be as exciting as watching paint dry. Natale makes a great point: “…just one round of testimony on ICD-10 preparation should be enough to persuade lawmakers that they have more interesting things to worry about.” Because on the surface, ICD-10 may look like a fun hot potato with which political pot-stirrers can play catch. But it’s not.
Imagining pols like Representative. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Representative Sander Levin (D-Mich.) getting down and dirty with justifying the implementation of more granular diagnostic codes (“Tell me precisely why it’s important to note whether it was the left or right hand on which the patient broke his finger, and enumerate which digit!” someone could question Tavenner, dramatically, peering over his half-lenses with a holier than thou look) might be fun, but it’s unrealistic. You think C-SPAN is boring now? Wait ’til this one hits the docket.
While imagining some of these bitter HITECH program rivals — Reps. Camp and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), signatories to the letter, have been challenging it for years — attempt to boil down ICD-10’s complexities to TV news sound bites might make for a fun lunch hour among us HIT observers, there’s a very serious undertow to this letter. If Natale’s right, there’s more potential lambasting of HIT systems at public hearings to come. It could be one more thing Congress goes after this upcoming election season.
Healthcare provider CIOs and CFOs have enough problems figuring out how to spend their already inadequate budgets. Playing guessing games about what federal technology initiatives will or won’t be in place next year is by extension playing games with patient care quality….especially for those living in underserved areas already strapped for resources. It’s time for Congress, vendors and regulators to come to a consensus for the benefit of the patients, healthcare providers and constituents they serve and drop the political battles.