When the Supreme Court initially decided to take up constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, many experts announced that the court's decision would have no impact on government health IT initiatives. After all, the main driver behind efforts to encourage physicians to adopt electronic health records is the meaningful use program, which gets its funding from a different piece of legislation.
However, by upholding the health reform law, the Supreme Court may have protected a number of major health IT initiatives in some important ways. Now that the agencies can proceed with implementing provisions of the law, medical professionals may come to see how important the Affordable Care Act is to their health IT plans.
While there are no provisions in the law that specifically call for the use EHRs or other IT tools, there are several programs that implicitly rely on technology. By continuing these initiatives, a number of doctors may feel more encouraged to adopt EHRs.
One of the most prominent of these initiatives is the Shared Savings program. The details of this largely focus on changing payment systems. It rewards doctors with higher reimbursement rates for containing costs and keeping patients healthy, rather than for each service they provide.
It would be nearly impossible for a doctor to participate in this program without having an EHR system in place because of the large amounts of data reporting required. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced that it will give preference to physicians who want to participate who use EHRs.
Soft support for health IT
The Shared Savings program is part of a larger drive in the health reform law to make care more efficient. This largely means encouraging physicians to adopt new care models, such as accountable care organizations. While the aspects of the law that seek to support these care models say nothing specific about using EHRs, the high levels of care coordination demanded make the technology a key player.
Ultimately, the Affordable Care Act is all about making care more efficient in order to improve outcomes while reducing costs. These are largely the same goals as the HITECH Act, so it makes sense that there would be some overlap between the two pieces of legislation.
While it is very difficult to know exactly what would have happened in the health IT industry if the law had been struck down, it is reasonable to assume that physicians would have lost some impetus to adopt EHRs. However, since it has been upheld, doctors can now proceed confidently in the pursuit of their IT goals.