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Health IT's small, but significant role in health reform

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Proponents of government health IT programs may be breathing a little easier after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld almost all of President Obama's landmark healthcare reform law.

Most efforts to give hospitals and doctors the latest IT tools are rooted in 2009 stimulus laws that predate Obama's Affordable Care Act, and had the law been overturned, it would likely have been no more than a speed bump for health IT.

Supporters of the wide range of health IT, from digital records to electronic information exchanges,say the reforms in the ACA are critical to creating a health care system where the latest technology flourished.

"In addition to health insurance reforms, expansion of Medicaid eligibility, and the creation of health insurance exchanges, the ACA includes a number of improvements dependent on or related to health IT capabilities including, electronic health information exchange (HIE); new methods to reimburse expenses based on quality of care, operating rules and standards; and health IT workforce development," all of which would have been lost if the law had been overturned, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., released a report in March noting that the ACA included provisions that expanded some earlier health IT programs to encourage adoption of the latest technology.

Health IT, Whitehouse observed in the report, is an integral part of the broader healthcare system. "These areas are not separate silos; progress in each area will influence, and be influenced by, progress in others," he wrote.

That was a sentiment echoed by National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Farzad Mostashari, who told reporters earlier this month he wasn't worried about what effect the Supreme Court's ruling could have on health IT. "What worries me is people not having health insurance," he said.

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