'Wired for Health' Bill Approved

By Stacy Lawrence  |  Posted 11-23-2005
Late last week the Senate approved a bill designed to encourage the adoption of information technologies in health care with the intent of improving patient care, reducing medical errors and contributing to cost savings for health care providers.

Entitled the "Wired for Health Care Quality Act," the bi-partisan effort was originally introduced this summer by Republican Senator Mike Enzi (WY), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and was co-sponsored by 38 senators, including several prominent Democrats such as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) and Senator Barack Obama (IL).

The bill, approved unanimously by the Senate, is intended to encourage the involvement of the private sector by adopting the standard setting processes outlined by the newly-established American Health Information Collaborative. It will offer federal grants to help health care providers in need of assistance incorporating information technology.

"This brings us closer to enabling all Americans the freedom and security of going to the doctor's office or hospital and presenting an electronic card or identification tag that holds all patient data, insurance and medical history records," said Enzi.

The bill has now been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if enacted the bill would cost $40 million next year and more than $650 million by the end of the decade.

The bill directs the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to:

• Establish and chair the public-private American Health Information Collaborative.

• Make recommendations to identify uniform national standards for adoption by the federal government to support the widespread adoption of health IT.

• Award competitive grants to hospitals, group practices, and other health care providers to facilitate the adoption of health IT.

• Award demonstration grants to health professions centers and academic health centers to integrate health IT into the clinical education of doctors and health care providers.

• Establish quality measures to ultimately reward health care providers who improve the quality of care patients receive.