Enough with the new bills

Yesterday, Health Data Management had a story about some new health IT legislation coming from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). I see lots of stories like it every time some member of Congress introduces a bill or even thinks about doing so, and I see just as many stories every time one subcommittee or another holds a hearing or takes a vote on health IT legislation.

The one thing I’m not seeing is actual enactment of health IT legislation, with one notable exception: the Medicare e-prescribing incentive program. That one, of course, was part of a broader bill “rescuing” providers from a 10 percent Medicare fee cut at the 11th hour—and setting up a 20 percent cut on Jan. 1, 2010, unless Congress acts again. But how many health IT bills have we heard hyped over the past four or five years, only to see them die before coming to a vote before the full House or Senate?

I sweated out a midday outdoor press conference in stifling, 95-degree heat on Capitol Hill back in June, listening to politician after politician offer great praise for National Health IT Week and call for various forms of incentives to promote EHRs, PHRs, the NHIN and all the other acronyms we’ve become so familiar with. Most reporters who were there ate that up. But not I.

I pulled aside Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) after their speeches, and asked each of them one-on-one about the chance of passing any meaningful health IT bills during a presidential election year. Both laughed and said it was slim to none.

So there you have it, some refreshing honesty from members of Congress. And yet people still seem to get excited whenever someone important utters a word about health IT. My guess is that the majority of Congress still doesn’t grasp the issues. Until that happens, don’t expect anything to reach the president’s desk—no matter who happens to be sitting in the Oval Office.