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Frist, Clinton Prescribe Healthcare IT Bill

Senators Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) hope to help heal the nation's health care system with legislation to create an interoperable health IT network.

The lawmakers said Thursday the Health Technology to Enhance Quality Act of 2005 (Health TEQ) implements IT standards to guide the design and operation of health information systems.

"[This legislation] will help launch America's transition away from outmoded pen-and-pad medicine by encouraging the creation of an interoperable, secure and technology-based system of medical care," Frist said at press conference.

The bill establishes an Office of National Coordinator for Information Technology and establishes standards for the electronic exchange of health information. In addition, it authorizes grants to local and regional consortiums to implement a health information technology infrastructure that is compliant with national standards.

"This legislation marries technology and quality to create a seamless, efficient health care system for the 21st Century," said Clinton. "By creating national interoperability standards, we will give health care providers the confidence that an investment in health IT is an investment in the future."

According to Frist and Clinton, the bill establishes a "collaborative public-private process" for the recommendation and adoption of standards for the electronic exchange of health information in conjunction with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Part of the collaboration involves directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study of privacy laws and practices to determine how the variation among such state laws and practices may impact the electronic exchange of health information.

The bill also clarifies that the privacy, confidentiality and security protections included in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 extend to health information exchanged electronically under the Frist-Clinton legislation.

The legislation closely follows a plan introduced last week by HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt calling for a government advisory group to help coordinate healthcare IT standards. Leavitt is also seeking proposals for the development of a prototype national healthcare information network.

The bill also drew the immediate praise from the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP), a CEO policy advocacy group focused on U.S. competitiveness.

"The U.S. health care system today includes the world's greatest doctors and most powerful medical tools, but they lack the basic information infrastructure to maximize their talents and effectiveness," CSPP Executive Director Bruce Mehlman said in a statement.

Mehlman added, "Our paper-driven health care system each year contributes to thousands of unnecessary medical errors, $150 billion in administrative waste and another $300 billion on unneeded and redundant medical tests. The Frist-Clinton legislation represents a significant step forward to alleviate these problems."

A CSPP nationwide poll conducted earlier this year found nearly 70 percent of Americans favor integrating IT into the nations health-care system.

In the House, Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Penn.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) have introduced similar legislation.