It isnít a difficult argument to make that with the advances in management technology, there is every reason to use electronic medical records to help reduce such cost-drivers in health care as preventable medical and prescription errors and duplicative services, all while improving patient care. For good reason, President Obama pressed the goal in the health-care overhaul legislation, directing about $7 billion into an incentive program to enable hospitals and physician offices to convert to electronic records.

Now Medicare administrators face a problem on this front, inviting questions about whether they can manage efficiently a key aspect of reform. An inspector generalís report recently found that Medicare, reliant on self-reporting, has not developed adequate safeguards to verify that the hospitals and doctors receiving incentive payments are providing accurate information and actually meet the standards for eligibility. The agency has not conducted an audit, either, of any of the $3.6 billion it has paid out so far.

In short, a program intended to cut down errors, wastefulness and unnecessary costs is vulnerable to fraud and abuse.

Granted, the Department of Health and Human Services and its various offices responsible for overseeing the complex implementation of health-care reform face hectic times. Still, in these early stages, especially, it is critical that they take the time to put in place robust procedures that leave no room for such trouble.