Lobbying lessons to learn

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

HME News Contributing Editor John Andrews e-mailed me the link to a recent Washington Post article about “how an industry lobby scored a swift, unexpected victory.” The industry lobby: the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). The victory: up to $36.5 billion to create a nationwide network of electronic health records - part of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package.

Andrews, who also covers the healthcare IT industry, wrote me: “Even though I work with HIMSS, I never knew they wielded this kind of power. I just thought it was a stark contrast to the struggles the HME industry has faced over the years.”

The Post article detailed how HIMSS, over the past decade, has partnered with technology vendors, researchers and other allies to “shape public opinion and win over Washington’s political machinery.” 

To some extent, the HME industry has been able to do that, too. Take last year’s delay of national competitive bidding. Even though it ended up costing a 9.5% reimbursement cut, it’s still a good example of how the industry has been able to wield some power.

But $36.5 billion in funding? That’s hit-the-ball-out-of-the-park success. Here’s how HIMSS did it, according to the Post:

Research is king: “HIMSS has a ‘strategic alliance’ with the Center for Information Technology Leadership, a nonprofit that produces research reports - which HIMSS prints and distributes to Congress,” the newspaper writes. One of the center’s reports found that health information technology could save $77.8 billion annually, a statistic that Obama has used in his speeches.

Friends in high places: Partners HealthCare System, the largest healthcare provider in Massachusetts, chartered the Center for Information Technology Leadership. Its reports are sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and Microsoft, among others. Blackford Middleton, the center’s chairman, worked at Partners HealthCare with David Blumenthal, now Obama’s national coordinator for health technology.

Not that everyone believes electronic health records will save the government billons - the industry has its dectractors. And not that HIMSS and the HME’s largest industry lobby, AAHomecare, can be compared apples-to-apples. HIMSS represents 250 companies and has 20,000 members; AAHomecare has a fraction of that.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to read how a smaller player in the overall healthcare industry became a big player.

There could be lobbying lessons to learn here.