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House Committee Probes Meaningful Use Standards for Interoperability

November 16, 2012—The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a Nov. 14 hearing titled, “Is ‘Meaningful Use’ Delivering Meaningful Results?: An Examination of Health Information Technology Standards and Interoperability.” The hearing focused on the progress of the interoperability standards included in the HITECH Act of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), which provided incentive payments to providers to become “meaningful users” of electronic health records (EHR).

Subcommittee Chair Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) opened the hearing recognizing the need for the health care industry to adopt health information technology to bring down the rising cost of health care, but said the awards authorized under the HITECH Act have totaled $2 billion in discretionary spending by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and an additional $7.7 billion by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in grants to incentivize adoption of certified EHRs.  He said, “It is estimated that CMS will pay out approximately $20 billion in incentive payments to providers under this program.”

Chairman Quayle pointed out the significant investment made on health information technology and said, “While adoption of health IT products and services has increased since the passage of the HITECH Act, I have serious concerns about our progress towards greater interoperability of health IT systems.  Without interoperability, many of the potential benefits of health IT could go unrealized.” 

The witnesses spoke about the progress providers are making to becoming “meaningful users” by the HITECH law’s standards. National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Farzad Mostashari, M.D., ScM., said the administration is working with health care providers and systems to ensure the standards are a balance of “not set them so low that we’re not changing the intrinsic capabilities and interoperability of the systems, but not set them so high that few can participate as well.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.) brought up recent concerns that some health care providers could be using EHRs for “upcoding” in the Medicare fee-for-service program, and asked if the design of EHRs could be changed to identify occurrences of wrongful billing or “abuse.” Dr. Mostashari reassured Rep. Edwards that the administration “is taking the appropriate steps to investigate and correct any potential improper billing through EHRs.” He said they are also “conducting pilots of hospital audits… that support fraud enforcement in investigations so that EHRs are used as tools to combat fraud, not encourage it.”

With regard to interoperability and progress, Marc Probst, chief information officer and vice president, Information Systems, Intermountain Healthcare, said that they, along with others, are seeing results, but it is “only the beginning.”  He added, “While continuing to support the current momentum created by Meaningful Use, we must leverage all of the expertise in the federal government to develop a long‐range plan and architecture for a national healthcare information technology infrastructure and outline the pathway to comprehensive use of meaningful standards that facilitate national interoperability.”


Len Marquez
Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-862-6281


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