It has long been a tradition for executive and legislative branch officials to take their Beltway know-how and Rolodexes to the private sector. But even by Washington standards, health information technology companies seem exceptional; fully 70 percent of registered lobbyists who worked for such firms on health IT issues in the past two quarters have passed through Washington's infamous "revolving door," an iWatch News analysis reveals.
The stakes are unusually high. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 -- President Obama's economic stimulus bill -- contained more than $27 billion to promote the transfer of medical records from paper to digital form. The health IT funding in the bill is known as HITECH: the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. That cash will go to health providers as an incentive to make the switch from paper to digital, and the money began flowing this past January. Those providers will be making high-stakes decisions on what sorts of electronic records systems to buy -- and who to buy them from.
Though the stimulus law was enacted more than two years ago, the executive branch is still devising standards to ensure that the electronic health records are put to "meaningful use," as the act requires. Rather than wait to see what rules the Department of Health and Human Services created, some large health IT companies decided to put their lobbyists on the case, pushing for rules that would favor their products and services -- and give them the best shot at securing purchases from that multibillion-dollar pie. Some are also lobbying against moves in Congress to reduce the overall pot of HITECH money.
Many health IT firms don't lobby at all (see sidebar) but those that do choose their lobbyists carefully. Healthcare Informatics magazine publishes an annual ranking of the 100 largest health IT companies by annual revenue. According to the Senate Office of Public Records, 15 of the companies in the 2010 ranking -- most of them ranked in the top third by revenue -- reported health IT-related lobbying activity in the first quarter of 2011 or the last quarter of 2010. Of the 90 lobbyists listed as having done health IT lobbying for those firms, at least 63 were former Congressional and/or executive branch staffers, many of whom worked for health-related agencies or committees.
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