Four Republican House leaders want federal officials to suspend payments to hospitals and doctors who switch from paper to electronic health records, arguing the program may be wasting billions of tax dollars and doing little to improve the quality of medical care.
In an Oct. 4 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, they suggested that $10 billion spent so far on the program has failed to ensure that the digital systems can share medical information, a key goal. Linking health systems by computer is expected to help doctors do a better job treating the sick by avoiding costly waste, medical errors and duplication of tests.
The letter urges Sebilius to “change the course of direction” of the incentive program to require that doctors and hospitals receiving tax money get digital systems that can “talk with one another.” Failure to do so, the letter says, will result in a “less efficient system that squanders taxpayer dollars and does little, if anything, to improve outcomes for Medicare.” The letter urges Sebelius to suspend payments under the program until rules are written requiring that the systems share information.
The letter is signed by Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, D-Mich., Ways and Means health subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pa. and energy health subcommittee chair Wally Herger, R-Calif.
The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which runs the incentive program, did not respond to a request for comment on the letter on Friday.
The harsh criticism from Congress is unusual given the strong support that digitizing medicine has received from both political parties in recent years.