Candidates on Health IT: Bromides or Beliefs?

After the recent flurry of announcements, speeches and presentations focused on the major presidential candidates’ health care proposals it seems clear that health IT will be a permanent fixture in any future administration’s health care plans.

Just about all the candidates who have published their proposals, both Democrat and Republican, mentioned health IT as an essential part of future reform efforts.

Some, such as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, proposed spending billions of dollars to promote the use of technology. Others, particularly among the Republican candidates, talked about improving incentives for market-led programs and for state and local efforts.

And that’s all a big change from past presidential races, observers point out.

“Four years ago there was little attention being paid to this,” said Christine Bechtel, vice president of public policy and government relations at the eHealth Institute. “So it’s nice that many of the candidates now see (health IT) as an important element.”

Scott Wallace, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (NAHIT), also thinks that the understanding of how health IT works has made major strides since the last election.

“(The debate) is much more grounded than it was four years ago,” he said. “Then there was a tendency to look at technology as some kind of magic pixie dust that would make health care concerns go away. Now, politicians realize it involves a fundamental restructuring of how we think of IT and its role in health care.”

They see it now as “an integral part of the process and not a binary step,” he said.

But that also means that the issues involved with how IT can affect health care are much more complex, and that realization is preventing the presidential hopefuls so far from buttressing their proposals with many details of how they would prosecute their plans.

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