RealTime IT News

A Healthy House Vote For IT

Legislation designed to quicken the pace of health care IT implementation may reach President's Bush desk this year after all.

After languishing in two different committees for months, the U.S. House Thursday finally approved the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2005 (HIT).

The bill would create an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, allow hospitals to provide doctors with IT systems without running afoul of kickback laws and provides $40 million in funding.

The legislation also requires any storage of electronic medical records to meet the same privacy standards as medical records today.

The Senate has already approved health IT legislation with more than $150 million in funding. Differences between the two bills must be worked out in a conference committee.

Both chambers are pushing the legislation to help President Bush meet his goal of providing most Americans with electronic health records by 2014.

"The administration [supports the bill], which will promote a nationwide interoperable health information technology network," the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement of administrative policy.

The OMB statement added, "The administration is still assessing the cost of the bill and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that it does not cause a net increase in spending."

Democrats complained the bill fails to provide for interoperability and adequate privacy protections and badly under funds the effort to bring digital medical records to Americans.

"The Republicans won't put their money where there mouth is," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (R-Texas) said. "They say let the doctors figure out how to pay for it."

Doggett and other Democrats pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report (PDF file) on the bill that concludes it would not affect the growth rate of IT health care or how quickly the technology can be implemented.

"We could revolutionize how we deliver health care, but we're only spending $40 million," Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said.

The Institute of Medicine estimates as many as 98,000 people die every year from hospital medical errors, more than motor vehicle accidents or breast cancer.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Health Information Management Association, moving to a digital health records environment could save as much as $300 billion in unnecessary expenses being paid for the wrong treatments.

"It's time the health care industry moves to a digital future," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said the bill "takes a huge step forward by removing many of the barriers that have prevented interoperable health information technology from being implemented."

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) said in a statement it supported passage of the bill, but that it could have been stronger.

"We had supported the ADOPT HIT amendment, which would have provided a $250,000 deduction to small health care providers to purchase HIT for their practices," Roger Cochetti, CompTia's group director of U.S. public policy," said.

"Because the cost of HIT remains one of the most significant stumbling blocks in its widespread adoption, and because most Americans receive health care from small, local providers, ADOPT HIT would have greatly hastened the deployment of HIT."