He's gonna miss "meaningful use"
He’s gonna miss “meaningful use”

The government has a rich history of creating Orwellian terms. To doctors and their patients they’ve bequeathed a few howlers, not least the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act“. My personal favorite is “Meaningful Use“. This term will surely require some definition and explanation.

Meaningful Use was originally stitched into the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009“, the so-called “Stimulus Bill”. Briefly, a fair amount of stimulus money was dangled in front of physicians and hospitals in order to “encourage” them to adopt electronic health records (EHRs). The logic, if you want to call it that, went something like this: if we encourage doctors to use computers for patient records, then health care will be streamlined and we’ll all save money and be more productive and the economy will be stimulated.” Using computers “meaningfully” would make the world a better and healthier place.

It was a nice thought.

In action, meaningful use proved a burdensome mess that did nothing to enhance patient care, annoyed patients and physicians alike, and ended up costing more money than it saved.

Now, in a rare move for the government, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is announcing that, seven years into the program, meaningful use will be phased out.

However, since government cannot merely jettison ideas, it must replace them with better other ideas, CMS chairman Andy Slavitt announced that meaningful use would be replaced with “something better”:

We are designing from the outside-in. We started by working with front-line physicians, tech companies, and practice managers over a four day session.. to garner direct feedback on the right measures for each specialty and how to implement the program most simply.

What Slavitt and all the pointy-heads in DC fail to realize is that the health care market, like any market of any scale, is too large and complex to plan centrally.  Nevertheless they remain confident as ever that this time they’ll get it right.

The only way out of this mess is to phase out government involvement in health altogether.  Allow providers and consumers to see the costs of the the services provided. Two things will surely follow: fewer services will be provided (because patients will become more judicious consumers), and prices will come down (because providers will compete on price.

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