Congress seeks to jump-start health IT

Congress seeks to jump-start health IT

A bipartisan group of House members today initiated a one-two punch to advance adoption of health IT. A high-profile Senate bill will follow the House legislation.

Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) are expected to introduce the Senate legislation in about three weeks, said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), one of the House bill's authors.

Kennedy and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) sponsored HR 2234, the 21st Century Health Information Act, which would provide grants and loans for the startup of regional health networks and investment in administrative and clinical technology.

President Bush has requested $125 million in fiscal 2006 for IT demonstration projects and regional health information organizations.

The House legislation also calls for interoperability standards that industry can agree on and permission for hospitals to help fund physicians' IT adoption.

"Today can be the beginning of the end of seeing hundreds of thousands of Americans die unnecessarily because our system isn't set up to deliver the safest, most effective care despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses," Kennedy said at a briefing in the shadow of the Capitol.

A report several years ago from the Institute of Medicine of Washington said as many as 98,000 people die annually from medical mistakes.

IT systems and applications will improve the safety and coordination of health care and also cut costs, Murphy said. The legislation would put pressure on industry to migrate to electronic health records and electronic prescribing, which federal health systems in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have already adopted.

Health and Human Services Department secretary Mike Leavitt urged industry to invest in health IT and to collaborate in setting standards for health IT interoperability. He released the "Health Information Technology Leadership Panel: Final Report" containing those and other recommendations by study consultants at the Lewin Group Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

"There's an economic imperative that we solve this dilemma," Leavitt said at a briefing at the Business Roundtable's CEO Health Care Summit.

Health care costs account for 15 percent of the U.S. economy and are rising, while nearly one-third of all federal spending goes toward health care, according to federal statistics.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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