Former Lawmakers Push E-Health on The Hill

WASHINGTON — An interconnected medical network would save more than 100,000 lives annually, former U.S. Sen. John Breaux said today at the launch of a new coalition promoting the deployment of health information technology (IT) systems.

The Health IT Now! coalition plans to lobby Congress to eliminate barriers to electronic health records and to establish guidelines to ensure patient privacy. In addition to saving lives, Breaux pointed to a Rand Corp. study that claims efficient use of health IT systems would save $81 million a year in health care costs.

“Health IT involves no more than implementing the kind of electronic information systems already used in many business sectors and putting it to work in health care,” Breaux said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “The hardware and software already exist.”

In the last Congress, both the House and the Senate approved measures to jumpstart health IT systems. Ultimately the two chambers couldn’t agree on funding and privacy standards and the measure died.

“Congress is struggling with the concept,” Breaux said. “When you have something as relatively simple as this that saves lives and money, it’s a win-win situation.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, now working as the president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said the small and medium business in his organization reported health care costs rose by 11 percent to 20 percent last year.

“The cure isn’t aspirin, but technology,” Engler said. “Everyone can agree on this. The 110th Congress has an immediate opportunity [to get this done]. It’s an opportunity our country cannot afford to let pass.”

Engler added virtually every American has experience with filling out “reams and reams” of medical paperwork, most of which has to be physically transferred if a patient changes doctors or moves to another city. The end result, he said, is a fragmented patient medical history.

Among the initiatives sought by the coalition is an accelerated process for standards improvement, product certification and federal financial incentives for states, communities and other entities to plan health IT components and health information exchanges.

According to the coalition, a network of electronic medical records would allow for up-to-date records eliminating duplicate and unnecessary medical tests in addition to providing better support in emergency medical situations.

Coalition officials also noted the U.S. medical industry is a high-tech “marvel” except when it comes to keeping records.

Breaux downplayed both the financial and privacy aspects of establishing a national health IT network. “Congress is going to have to find the money,” he said. As for privacy concerns, Breaux said, “It seems like we ought to be able to solve that.”

Breaux added that the coalition plans to bring political pressure on the 2008 presidential candidates by promoting the health IT initiative in a number of primary states.

“I hope someone asks every one of the candidates on where they stand on this issue,” he said.

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