The use of electronic medical records, short of any major change in how providers deliver care, would have a muted effect on lowering overall healthcare costs, said Peter Orszag, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Orszag's comment came during a news conference in Washington for the release of the CBO's first-ever breakout report on long-term healthcare spending. The assessment could ultimately have a dampening effect on Capitol Hill, where federal lawmakers and even some presidential candidates have touted the expected windfall that they say would come from having a fully-wired healthcare system.
Indeed, many White House contenders have health reform plans that are, in part, contingent on those savings. Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for instance, said she expects at least half the $110 billion estimated cost of her health reform agenda to come from public savings generated from modernizing the health system and reducing wasteful spending.
Orszag, however, warned that such estimates run counter to what the CBO data show, adding that "the return is not going to be as substantial as people think."
Orszag did not dismiss the use of electronic medical records. Rather, he said a key benefit to having them would be as a way to assemble a comprehensive database that could track what works medically and what doesn't during clinical comparative effectiveness research. He did not directly comment on any of the presidential platforms, opting instead to speak in general terms because of the CBO's directive to be nonpartisan.