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Republican "reboot" senators still gunning for meaningful use

They haven’t gone away.

The six Republican senators who unleashed a manifesto last year questioning the basic tenets of meaningful use, HIPAA enforcement and even the efficacy of electronic health records are still hanging around Capitol Hill.

Indeed, their 27-page “Reboot” tract will form the basis for a closed-door meeting during next week’s National Health IT Week between the senators’ policy staffers and College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS) members and leadership and policy experts.

CHIME’s president and CEO, Russell Branzell, has told SearchHealthIT that the health IT advocates will be there to listen and respond to questions.

In essence, they most likely will be playing defense on the $35 billion meaningful use program the senators are attacking and which could become a big political issue in the next big presidential and senate election cycle, which kicks off next year in advance of the 2016 elections.

A more fascinating scenario would find the health IT leaders somehow allied with team “Reboot” to get some of their meaningful use wish-list items done, such as easing deadlines for CMS reimbursement penalties for failing to attest to meaningful use, getting a year off without losing EHR incentive funds, or even making 2015’s reporting period something less than the 365 days as required now. We’ll find out after the meeting what actually does transpire.

In 2016, in addition to the presidency, 34 Senate seats will be contested. It would not be a surprise if the Affordable Care Act and the critical IT underpinnings the 2009 HITECH stimulus bill set in place for it, will rise again as fodder for GOP sallies against the now ruling Democrats.

In that vein, the Reboot meeting next week could be seen as the start of that fight, even if the health IT forces arrayed around the table – including Branzell – opt to go on the offense and not just settle for defending the struggling meaningful use initiative.

What isn’t debatable is that the Republicans’ contention that interoperability isn’t working has already had an impact at the highest levels of CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for health IT policy.

A good chunk of ONC’s slate of sessions at the week of health IT goings on is devoted to interoperability, and most of ONC chief Karen DeSalvo’s current portfolio appears to be pointed at interoperability.

As for patient privacy, the GOP critics want more of that. It will be interesting to see how forcefully Jocelyn Samuels, the new Office for Civil Rights director, enforces HIPAA in the last two years of the Obama administration. She could also use the National Health IT Week forum as a platform to telegraph the long-awaited audit program.

And while the Reboot meeting might be tense, CHIME and AMDIS leaders are also scheduled to meet privately with Senate Finance Committee leadership staff in a bipartisan and therefore likely more amicable session – even though it will be about money.

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Although Health IT needs to happen and should have without government intervention the big fail is the HIE program (over $560 million) - those HIE in place prior to project (like in Ohio) are successful but most are totally unsustainable.. The ONC HIE program was  headed up by claudia williams at ONC who is now a special advisor at the White House so failure seems to be rewarded?