Insurers to give feds e-health records in new bill

Health IT legislation that Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) has introduced aims to improve the health care of 8 million federal workers and their families by providing electronic health records for them.

At the same time, the bill would create the largest health IT demonstration project in the country, said Porter, who is chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Under H.R. 4859, the Federal Family Health Information Technology Act of 2006, insurance plans that participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would create carrier-based electronic health records for all participants. The Office of Personnel Management administers the federal health benefit plans.

The federal government funds health IT demonstration projects around the nation through the Health and Human Services Department's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. None match the number of people that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program affects.

'The success of this bill will set the stage for HIT [health IT] implementation nationwide,' Porter said in a statement.

Starting in 2008, insurers would begin to collect data to create an electronic health record, according to Chad Bungard, deputy staff director and chief counsel for the subcommittee. The information will come from the individual's health care claims, health care services data and prescription claims data, provisions of the bill said.

'Insurers would probably begin producing the electronic health records in three or four years,' he said.

The bill also requires carriers to create a personal health record, for which participants can use a Web-based service to enter information such as dietary requirements, allergies and family health history. Finally, the bill provides incentives for local health care providers to implement health IT in their offices.

Porter has scheduled two hearings in his subcommittee, the first one to be held March 15, to discuss and mark up the bill, Bungard said.

The Office of Personnel Management provided technical assistance and answered many questions to construct the most effective legislation, Bungard said. Porter also consulted with insurance providers, doctors and hospitals. Insurers would follow OPM standards and be consistent with any standards for interoperability that HHS adopts.

Under the bill's provisions, OPM will establish a trust fund to receive donations to be used as grants to carriers that meet certain requirements to encourage them to contract physicians to use electronic health records. Currently, anti-kickback and fraud laws prevent hospitals and pharmaceutical companies from helping physicians invest in health IT.

OPM, as the largest purchaser of employee health care benefits, has committed to contribute to the expansion and use of electronic health records, e-prescribing and other health IT, OPM director Linda Springer said at a hearing last year.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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