NEW ORLEANS — That giant sigh of relief you heard yesterday was likely the more than 30,000 health IT people gathered at HIMSS13 breathing a little easier after CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said that the agency will not issue Stage 3 regulations in 2013. Instead, CMS will focus its efforts this year on fully implementing Stage 2 and, specifically, achieving greater interoperability and health information exchange.

Along those lines, the agency will soon issue a request for information seeking input on how it can achieve greater interoperability. Tavenner said that could very well include extending Stark and antikickback exemptions.

"That means we are going to spend 2013 on education and learning what is working in Stage 2 and what isn't working," she said.

But don't rest too much. She added that the agency is setting some ambitious targets — 50 percent of physician offices using electronic health records and 80 percent of eligible hospitals receiving meaningful use incentive payments by the end of 2013. As of January, 70 percent of eligible hospitals had received their incentive payments and 40 percent of docs were using EHRs.

Tavenner, and in a separate press conference ONC chief Farzad Mostashari, M.D., said that IT is essential to moving the delivery system from volume to value. New payment models, they said, rely heavily on the ability to collect, analyze and act on clinical data. That can only be done with strong IT platforms.

Tavenner also said that the agency would explore ways to ensure program integrity. That is, are providers actually using the IT systems once they are installed? The agency will likely develop some sort of audit program — although Tavenner said she doesn't like that word. Plans are in the works for a summit in May to figure out some of these complex issues.

Regarding ICD-10, Tavenner was unequivocal in the agency's position on further postponing things. "Are we going to delay ICD-10? The answer is 'no,' " she said, adding that last year's agreement to a delay was fair and a "one-time visit to that compromise."

Finally, both agency heads suggested that the sequester will have far-reaching effects on the field. Tavenner said that meaningful use incentive payments will be impacted, although she couldn't specify how. Mostashari noted that the cut in agency funding will impact work being done on security, certification testing and extending IT to long-term care settings.

Empowering People

In his much-anticipated afternoon keynote, former President Bill Clinton delivered lessons in history, economics, political science and social welfare. A standing-room crowd (people started marking their seats a full two hours early) seemed captivated by Clinton's mere presence in the room. He received a standing ovation when he climbed onto the stage. HIMSS Chairwoman Willa Fields, M.D., was downright giddy while delivering her introductory remarks. Although Clinton didn't delve too deeply into health care, he did urge attendees to find ways of using IT to empower people.

"You all know information technology and how we manage it is critical," he said.

Clinton detailed the work his foundation has done to address health and wellness, including attacking the issue of childhood obesity.

Regarding the current political stalemate in D.C., Clinton said he believes that lawmakers will ultimately work out a deal, although he did call the sequester a "loony" idea.

When asked by HIMSS CEO Stephen Lieber about the potential for another Clinton to be on the ballot in 2016, the former president said, "Whether you believe this or not, I have no idea. I don't think she has an idea."