From The Editor | April 4, 2012

Obamacare On Trial: The Potential Repercussions For Health IT

Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes

By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes

Is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as the healthcare reform law, or Obamacare) unconstitutional? Can the federal government require us to purchase a product (health insurance), or is this an infringement on our personal freedom? After listening to a week of oral arguments both for and against the pending law (set to take effect next year), the U.S. Supreme Court is tasked with making this very difficult decision by the end of June. Their ultimate ruling will have a significant impact not only on the future of healthcare reform and the upcoming presidential election — it could also affect the future growth of health IT.

ACO, Telehealth, Remote Monitoring Investments At Risk
For example, if the universal health coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is deemed unconstitutional, then the entire law will be scrapped, and healthcare reform discussions and legislation will start from scratch. One of the key aspects of Obamacare is a move from a fee-for-service to a pay-for-performance model of compensation. This is where much of the industry’s focus on forming ACOs (accountable care organizations) originated. If Obamacare is killed, then it’s conceivable that much of the IT effort and investment geared toward developing infrastructures to support ACOs would slow down significantly or cease altogether.

Other technology segments that could be severely impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling are telehealth and remote patient monitoring. An increase in demand for these technologies has largely been spurred by the influx of newly insured patients expected under healthcare reform. By leveraging these technologies to meet with patients virtually or monitor chronically ill patients from home rather than calling them in for regular office visits, healthcare providers could maximize the number of patients they are able to evaluate per day and be better prepared to accommodate and manage increased patient loads. If Obamacare is ruled unconstitutional, then a fairly significant driver for these technologies is gone and investment in these technologies could stall.

EHRs Safe For Now
It’s been said that healthcare reform is good for the health IT business. However, even if Obamacare is squashed, it won’t spell doom and gloom for the health IT industry. Remember, the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act is what is on trial here, not the HITECH Act that lays the groundwork for the EHR Meaningful Use incentive road map and other health IT stimulus programs. These programs will remain intact … at least until the election in November, and probably beyond.

It has been openly said by key industry and political leaders that support for health IT investment is a bipartisan issue. For example, many people forget that it was George W. Bush that started the push toward a universal EHR during his term as president. GOP leaders Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have both been staunch supporters of IT adoption in healthcare as well. In fact, Gingrich even founded the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) in 2003 — a collaboration of public and private sector leaders dedicated to the creation of an intelligent health system (driven by IT) that saves money and lives. However, another top priority of Republicans is to significantly reduce spending. The Meaningful Use incentive funds could be a target in the drastic budget cuts expected under Republican leadership. We’ll have to wait and see.