Anti-kickback regulations could slow technology adoption, health IT groups say

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A number of health IT-related lobbyists and healthcare organizations have expressed doubt as to whether recently proposed exceptions to anti-kickback laws will really decrease hospitals hesitation to help community physicians adopt health IT, Ziff David Internet reports.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the new rules to bolster adoption of e-prescription tools and EMR by physicians and healthcare organizations. The proposal creates exceptions to the 'physician self-referral' law, also known as the Stark law. To avoid kickbacks, the rule prevents physicians participating in Medicare to refer patients for certain health services to hospitals which the physician is financially connected. The new rules, however, would exclude technology buys from the rule to make IT adoption easier.

"The proposed exceptions create more uncertainty about what is permitted without eliminating barriers to investment in healthcare IT," said Scott Wallace, head of the National Alliance for Information Technology, in comments about the new regulations. "In fact, the proposed exceptions work against the stated goals of fostering cooperation between potential donors and physicians to achieve interoperability."

More criticism came in the form of a white paper from the law firm McDermott Will and Emory that believes the proposed changes "are probably too narrow to effectively encourage widespread adoption of EHR systems." The firm also voiced concern that donating equipment could bring about elements of fraud and abuse.

Other worries came from the AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans). Karen Ignagni, AHIP CEO, warned in testimony to Congress this year that, "unintended consequences of tying physicians to hospitals financially through equipment subsidies or electronic record sharing" could be a possibility.
This could lead to community practices that are entirely too dependent on one hospital's network and could limit their ability to work with other hospitals, Ignagni said.

AHIP did note in comments to the federal government stated that the rules strike a good balance between supporting health IT and the potential for fraud and abuse. The organization also recommended strengthening requirements for interoperability of donated systems.