The unveiling of the federal governments plan to privatize an HHS panel charged with managing the industrys shift into electronic records invited harsh criticism from a key member of Congress, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
A timeline for transitioning the American Health Information Community from a government advisory panel into an independent, private-sector leadership entity by January 2009 was released by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on June 12. The plan calls for establishing an AHIC successor organization as a voluntary public-private partnership to lead national efforts for the integration and use of health information technology that is standards-based and interoperable while ensuring that health information is protected and portable, an HHS news release stated.
Stark quickly responded to the announcement. Secretary Leavitt wants the blind to lead the blind, said Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, in a news release. If the private sector was interested in developing or able to promote interoperable standards for health information technology, it would have done so years agoand private companies wouldnt today be asking the government to pay for it. Self-interested private firms have and will continue to fight among themselves over specifics, further delaying the adoption of money-saving and lifesaving technologies. It is well past time for federal leadership to fix this market failure.
HHS responded to Starks criticism by pointing out that the plan would actually protect it from some of the problems plaguing the industrys effort to implement electronic records. According to HHS spokesman Raymond Sass, Leavitts plan to privatize AHIC will shield it from political influences.
As the secretary has said, a transition of the AHIC to the private sector will ensure its long-term sustainability because its work will not depend on the direction prevailing political winds are blowing or funding from Congress, Sass said in an e-mail. The AHIC has proven to be a guiding force for health IT development and has played a key role in the harmonization of interoperability standards and certification to those standards. Developing a business model for a successor organization that can continue to function in the private sector as a strong public-private collaborative will ensure its work can continue into the future.
In April, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology hired three contractors to develop possible business models to make AHIC private, they included one huge, one midsize and one small consulting firm: Booz Allen Hamilton, McLean, Va.; and Avalere Health and Alchemy, both based in Washington. The contracts were for about $100,000 each.
An evaluation of the three plans will be conducted this month to identify the most viable elements and practices. Public comment will be taken July 2-20 and incorporated into a prototype that will be presented to and analyzed by AHIC members in August and September. According to Leavitts timeline, a final prototype and transition plan will be presented at the AHICs Sept. 18 meeting, and the new organization will begin to operate in the fall.