HHS to spin off HIT advisory committee

June 22, 2007

Since President Bush announced his plan for universal EHR adoption, the government has tried to get the private sector to carry the ball as much as possible.

Since President Bush announced his plan for universal EHR adoption, the government has tried to get the private sector to carry the ball as much as possible. So it came as no surprise that the Department of Health and Human Services is planning to turn its health IT advisory body, The American Health Information Community (AHIC), into a private-sector entity by January 2009, the month Bush leaves office. Three consulting firms have been hired to explore how AHIC might be transformed into a self-sustaining organization.

AHIC has advised HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt in the areas of population health, chronic care, electronic health records, consumer empowerment, personalized health care, and health-care quality. Its most important work to date has been to advise the government on the HIT standards developed by private-sector groups like CCHIT, HITSPE, and SureScripts.

So why is the committee being transformed into a private organization with an as-yet-undefined business model? According to a government source who prefers not to be named, HHS wants to "insulate" AHIC from the "political winds" that might alter its mission or cut its funding when a new administration comes in. Also, the official notes, "if it can exist in the private sector, then it ought to."

However, it's expected that HHS will continue to be an AHIC member, and that the new organization will be a public-private partnership. With regard to persuading the health care industry to follow agreed-upon standards, the official points out that the federal government pays for about 40 percent of health care. So where Medicare leads, the private sector is sure to follow.