Federal laws on healthcare fraud and abuse, kickbacks, antitrust activity and tax penalties are barriers to broader adoption of health information technology, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. The laws do not specifically address how providers and others can cooperate to finance and implement major IT projects, the GAO said in a briefing to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. As a result, providers are not certain which type of relationships are legal and which might be judged illegal, the agency said. In a letter to committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), GAO healthcare director Janet Heinrich said, "To the extent there are uncertainties and ambiguities in predicting legal consequences, healthcare providers are reluctant to take action and make significant investments in health IT."
Responding to the GAO report, HHS' inspector general's office warned that guidance for IT partnerships or exceptions to the federal laws must be crafted carefully to exclude abusive arrangements involving the free provision of IT goods and services. The laws provide important protections against illegal kickbacks and fraudulent or abusive referrals to provider-owned facilities, the office said. Read the abstract or the full report.-- by John Morrissey