Mostashari: Sequestration will be difficult for Meaningful Use

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Sequestration, set to kick in April 1 for the Medicare program, will prove to be a painful blow to the Meaningful Use incentive program, National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari said Wednesday, speaking to members of the press at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual meeting in New Orleans. Medicare reimbursements are set to be reduced by 2 percent, a total that, according to Mostashari, will take roughly $3 million away from ONC's budget.

"To provide a little context, in 2004, when President Bush started--by executive order--the Office of the National Coordinator, our first year's budget was $60 million, and we had 1 percent of physicians who were prescribing electronically via electronic health records," Mostashari said. "Last year, our budget was $60 million--in fact, I think it was $117 less--and we had 70 percent of physicians e-prescribing via EHRs."

Mostashari ran down a growing list issues that have cropped up since 2004 for ONC--including security and usability issues--as well as growing responsibilities of the office--including creating national guidance--in solidifying his point about just how much the cuts would impact healthcare.

"We have development of national policy around Meaningful Use … and the $20 billion in health IT incentive programs, and the $3 trillion we spend on healthcare in this country, and our budget was $60 million," he said. "Oh no, oops, it's not $60 million, it's now $57 million, with $3 million cut based on sequestration. Absent a furlough of our staff, it is going to mean that we have a major cut in contracts that we have.

"There are going to be things that the industry expects us to do, that providers and patients will expect us to do, that we simply will not be able to do," Mostashari added. "We have zero flexibility in terms of how the sequester cuts were taken. We are under an account, and that account is going to be cut. It's very difficult."