New Bill Proposes Health IT Funds, Eases IT Distribution

The business of health information technology got boosts from both the executive and legislative branches this week.

In the House of Representatives, a Democrat (Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island) and Republican (Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania) together introduced a bill that would eliminate legal barriers for giving physicians information technology for free, fund efforts to share information among regional health providers, and require that patients maintain control over and access to their information. Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Majority Leader William Frist are preparing to introduce similar legislation in the Senate.

The final text of the House bill was not available, but according to a late draft supplied to Ziff Davis Internet, the legislation would establish a national technical assistance center for physicians struggling to implement IT. It would also require that regional health networks be accredited and that software and equipment purchased with federal funds be certified as being interoperable. It allocates up to $50 million in grants in 2006 to develop regional health information technology plans.

The legislation, termed 21st Century Health
Information Act of 2005, won praise from industry. The National Alliance of Health Information Technology, which includes both the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, issued a press release to laud the bill’s introduction.

Robert Seliger chairs the interoperability steering committee for HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society). He said that the bill was much more than lipservice.

“The proposed legislation is a very practical body of work,” he said, “The recommendations get to many of the technical and nontechnical issues required to make health IT a foundation of delivery.”

Seliger said health care organizations were becoming more tech-savvy individually, but this legislation would make the industry more savvy collectively, and so prevent health information from being locked away with just one provider. “They are buying IT for use within the enterprise, but this legislation is between enterprises.”

It would also remove some legal and financial burdens; the legislation explicitly allows health care providers to receive free equipment that are “necessary to participate in a health information network.” Previously, such giveaways could potentially run afoul of anticorruption laws.

Also this week, the head of health and human services, Mark Leavitt announced the release of a report of the Health Information Technology Leadership Panel, composed of business leaders from IT-savvy industries that, according to HHS, “purchase substantial levels of health care for their employees.” The report concluded that “investment in HIT is urgent and vital” for the US economy and listed barriers and proposed solutions in encouraging HIT. Health Care Information Technology

The findings (available here as a pdf ) are largely in line with those from previous studies. They describe misaligned financial incentives in which providers pay for HIT but financial benefits largely accrue to health care payers. The report urges the government, as the nation’s largest health care payer and one of its largest employers, to coordinate adoption of HIT and reward providers that do so. The report warns against unfunded mandates but statedd the private sector would welcome government involvement: “the federal government should lead and industry will engage.”

Corporations represented on the leadership panel are FedEx, General Motors, International Paper, Johnson Controls, Target Corp., Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

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