Bill to give feds electronic health records gathers support

Federal employees could be the largest group to test the advantages an electronic health record could provide, according to Rep. Jon Porter, who is sponsoring a bill to make the government a chief user of this technology.

But, lawmakers said during a recent hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, they are seeking recommendations on whether federal employees' participation would be automatic or they would have to give insurers permission to use their health claim information to build an electronic health record.

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

Porter, a Nevada Republican who introduced the bill earlier this month with bipartisan support, said the legislation is designed to improve the health care of 8 million federal workers and their families by providing electronic health records for them.

Porter is planning another subcommittee hearing next month to get input from employee groups before the bill goes before the full committee and eventually to mark-up.

'Chairman [Tom] Davis [R-Va.] has been very supportive of the concept. We've been meeting with groups to try to cover all the bases,' Porter said after the hearing last week.

Under the bill, insurers would start in 2008 to collect the data that will populate an electronic health record. The information will come from individuals' health care claims, health care services data and from prescription claims data. Ensuring privacy is a priority, Porter said.

If federal employee participation were voluntary, that would help to protect early adopters from some liability, said David St. Clair, chief executive officer of MEDecision Inc. of Wayne, Pa., which develops carrier-based electronic health records.

'However, opting in would make it difficult for providers to gain the numbers to make them ever change their workflow to use electronic health records,' he said.

The bill also requires carriers to create a personal health record, for which participants can use an online 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.

OPM would establish a trust fund to receive donations for 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.

As the largest purchaser of employee health care benefits, OPM has committed 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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