Public favors health IT but not enough to sway votes

A majority of Americans now favor development of a nationwide health information network, according to a poll taken this month for the Health Information and Management Systems Society.

Pollster Gary Ferguson of the firm American Viewpoint reported that 57 percent of those surveyed approved of developing a NHIN, while 30 percent opposed it. The remaining 12 percent said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

However, most of those polled said a presidential candidate’s position on NHIN development would make no difference in their decision on whether to vote for that candidate.

Ferguson said health care has become the top domestic political issue, but he and another pollster, Mark Mellman of the Mellman Group, said health IT is not a central concern of many voters.

Representatives of five presidential candidates outlined their positions on health IT yesterday at HIMSS’ annual public policy forum in Washington.

Although some in the audience complained of an absence of details in the platforms, Fred Hannett of the Capitol Alliance, chairman of the HIMSS Government Relations Roundtable, said it was notable that most of the major candidates had health IT planks in their platforms at all.

The most ambitious proposal came from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who aims to spend $10 billion a year for five years on health IT. Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) won a straw poll of the audience after the presentations.

Clinton is proposing to spend $3 billion per year if elected. “She really feels like [health IT] is a fundamental part of a reformed health care system,” said Andrea Palm, a member of Clinton’s Senate staff.

Barbara Smith, health policy chairwoman for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), provided no numbers but said Dodd “is very committed to a substantial investment” in health IT.

Although HIMSS officials invited all the candidates to send representatives to the forum, only the three Democrats and two Republicans appeared. The GOP candidates represented were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The Republicans provided even fewer details of their health IT platforms, but both expressed some support for it. Lanhee Chen, domestic policy director for the Romney campaign, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, policy director for the McCain campaign, said government needs to help fix the health care system.

As for health IT’s role in the presidential race, Chen spoke for several of the speakers when he said, “I think it’s fair to say that’s not the sexiest issue in the world.”

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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