Stimulus, Cash and Healthcare
The debate over how to spend tens of billions in stimulus money is getting personal, it seems.
Readers of the Washington Post may have noticed stories about the effort to use the massive stimulus legislation to jumpstart the creation of a nationwide network of electronic health record systems.
One story showed that a technology trade group called the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society played a big role in generating support for government subsidies of such gear. The group's decade-long campaign -- including the creation of non-profit research groups -- culminated when the Obama administration included up to $36.5 billion in stimulus spending for electronic health records systems, or EHR. (They predict that spending could lead to $17 billion in savings over the next decade in healthcare costs.)
A second story showed that the trade group is urging the Obama administration to name a certain certification group to help decide what technology qualifies for stimulus spending. Some critics have questioned whether the certification group, known as the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, or CCHIT, is too close to the trade group and its vendor members. A line from that story:
"Although the group is funded through a contract with Health and Human Services, it is run by a former HIMSS executive and one trustee also is the president of the trade group. Several board members work for technology vendor."
One of those critics, David Kibbe, a physician, writer and consultant, apparently touched a raw nerve in Mark Leavitt, the head of CCHIT and the former chief medical officer at the trade group, when he told the Post:
"One has to question whether or not a vendor-founded, -funded and -driven organization should have the exclusive right to determine what software will be bought by federal taxpayer dollars...It's important that the people who determine how this money is spent are disinterested and unbiased...Even the appearance of a conflict of interest could poison the whole process."
Leavitt responded in The Health Care Blog about the suggestion that his group, the only certification group for health information technology, might be swayed by the involvement of the trade group and vendors.
"For months, I've been 'turning the other cheek' to Dr. David Kibbe because I believe in devoting my energy to solving problems rather than to criticizing other people or worrying about what others think of me. But his repeated use of falsehoods and innuendo to attack CCHIT have found an audience in the national media, reaching a level that can no longer be ignored. By implication, he demeans the integrity of everyone who has contributed to that work - and I must rise to their defense."
"Again quoting you in the Post, 'even the appearance of a conflict of interest could poison the whole process.' In support of this heartfelt concern for transparency, could you arrange for the Washington Post to append to your statements a disclosure of any possible conflicts of interest you might have? Such as financial relationships with companies that market health IT products or services? I have none."
In an interview, Leavitt said he took Kibbe's comments as "an accusation" against both his group and himself. The gist, from his perspective: "That the organization is controlled by vendors."
"It's false," he said. "We thought we should respond."
Kibbe declined the opportunity to respond to Leavitt.
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