OPM uses its buying power to support health IT

Huge benefits program serves as both carrot and stick

The Office of Personnel Management is pushing the adoption of health IT from the inside.

With the weight of its 8 million-member Federal Employee Health Benefits program behind it, OPM earlier this month said it will make the implementation of health technology—including electronic health records, e-prescribing and linking disease management to health IT—part of the performance plans for its contracted carriers. The change will take two to four years, officials said.

OPM also will highlight those health plans with health IT capabilities during the next period when federal employees can switch carriers, according to OPM’s annual FEHB Program Carrier Letter, which OPM released earlier this month.

“We have asked the insurance carriers in the FEHB Program to work toward several short-term, health IT objectives,” said OPM director Linda Springer. “Taken together, these initiatives will lead to improved health care outcomes at reduced costs to consumers because medical information will be more accurate and more readily available when needed. And this will be accomplished while patient privacy is protected.”

The annual letter details OPM’s policy goals and calls for proposals on how to implement them from its health benefit program carriers. This year’s letter seeks more specific evidence that carriers are working toward health IT adoption.

Carriers should provide a business plan for this year and for 2007 for accelerating health IT at their health plan providers. OPM also wants to know how its carriers expanded health IT initiatives last year.

The use of electronic health records and other health IT for federal employees, by their sheer numbers, would spur the market in the private sector, health IT experts have said.

“OPM’s call for health IT support in [this month’s] carrier letter demonstrates our commitment to achieving widespread health IT adoption through market forces,” said David Brailer, the national coordinator for Health IT in the Health and Human Services Department.

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