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Senators Prescribe Health IT Legislation

Promising to couple privacy with technology, U.S. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation Thursday that would start the process of shifting health records from a paper-based system to a secure electronic format.

The bill creates a public-private collaborative effort to identify uniform national data standards and to implement policies for adoption of health information technology. The legislation also provides for undisclosed start-up funds for hospitals and physicians to utilize new technology.

In 2002, only 13 percent of hospitals and between 14 percent and 28 percent of doctors offices reported using electronic health records.

"The technology is there, it's just a matter of clearing away the obstacles so we can apply it to health care," Enzi said at a Capitol Hill press conference. "If we move from a paper-based system to secure electronic medical records, we will reduce mistakes, save lives, time and money."

Enzi, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said his legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), said patients in rural and underserved health care areas would have better and more efficient health care if hospitals and physicians were trained in new information technology.

According to Enzi, the bill would encourage medical schools and teaching hospitals to experiment with "innovative ways" to build health information technology education into the next generation of doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

"We've drafted a bill to bring the government and the private sector together to make healthcare better, safer and more efficient by accelerating the adoption of information technology across our healthcare system," said Enzi.

Attending the press conference with Enzi and Kennedy were Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, who introduced companion health IT legislation dealing with Medicare reimbursements and tax incentives.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved a Health Information Technology Reserve Fund as part of the fiscal year 2006 budget package, which allows committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate to adjust allocations for Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs in order to encourage health IT investment.

"The adoption of new technology in health care is the single most important step that can be taken to reduce costs and improve quality," Rhett Dawson, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, said in a statement. "Senators Enzi and Kennedy have taken the best ideas offered for health IT and created a package that I predict will ultimately pass the Senate overwhelmingly."