Separating health IT from politics

September 28, 2007

While a spate of health IT bills bounces around Congress, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt is moving briskly ahead with his plan to replace the American Health Information Community with a private-public entity that is supposed to make the nation's health IT decisions.

While a spate of health IT bills bounces around Congress, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt is moving briskly ahead with his plan to replace the American Health Information Community (AHIC) with a private-public entity that is supposed to make the nation's health IT decisions ("HHS to spin off HIT advisory committee," InfoTech Bulletin, June 22, 2007). In a recent press release accompanying a white paper about how the AHIC successor will be created, National HIT Coordinator Robert Kolodner said, "The AHIC succession will lead to a greater consensus among national health care stakeholders and lead to better health care in America through the widespread adoption of health IT."

Kevin Hutchinson, president of SureScripts and one of the eight commissioners of AHIC, explains that the current AHIC only advises the HHS Secretary, whereas the successor organization will be empowered to choose health IT standards with input from standards organizations, among other things. HHS and CMS will have an important role in the new organization, he says, and will advise the AHIC successor to ensure that the Certification Commission on Health IT (CCHIT) and the Health IT Standards Panel (HITSP) continue their work. But the new organization will exist outside the government, with a board and a CEO that will represent both the private and public sectors.

The government is offering a $13 million grant to a coalition or other entity that will undertake to organize the AHIC successor. While that entity has yet to be chosen, Hutchinson notes that "there are organizations that have experience in bringing diverse organizations together for a consensus-building process," and presumably one of those will do the work. It's anticipated that the successor will take shape late this year and take over from the current AHIC in early '08.

It's unclear what will happen if Congress passes laws that are at odds with the AHIC successor's decisions. "I'd agree that there's a risk with this approach," Hutchinson says. "The Secretary recognizes that." But in January 2009, there will be a new Administration, and "anything could be changed" with regard to AHIC. So Leavitt feels it's imperative to move ahead now, he says.

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