Leavitt Promotes Use of Health Care Information Technology in National Emergencies
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt at the Health Information Technology/HIPAA Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday said a national electronic health records system would be helpful for preventing people from losing their medical records in the case of a widespread emergency, such as a natural disaster or disease pandemic, CQ HealthBeat reports. About one million people have been displaced because of Hurricane Katrina, and most of them have lost their medical records, according to Leavitt.
He said the aftermath of the hurricane presents a strong case in favor of promoting health care IT, adding that health IT systems could allow public health officials to quickly identify disease outbreaks in the event of an emerging pandemic.
While the hurricane already has affected congressional plans to cut Medicaid costs, it also could affect health care IT legislation, congressional aides said Thursday at the summit. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) had hoped for a floor vote on a health care IT bill (S 1418) this month, Enzi aide Katy Barr said, adding, "But right now, with so many things on the plate, that doesn't look too likely" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/8).
The bill, approved by the HELP Committee on June 20, is compromise legislation that includes provisions of a bill (S 1355) co-sponsored by Enzi and committee ranking member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and a measure (S 1262) co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The bill would include several measures to promote the growth of health care IT, including grants of $125 million in fiscal year 2006 and $155 million in FY 2007 to health care providers to help increase the use of health IT applications (California Healthline, 7/21).
Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) also had been drafting health care IT legislation, but it would be difficult to pass such a bill in the House by the end of the year, Johnson aide Dan Elling said. "The end of this year is certainly an aggressive goal," Elling said, adding, "Obviously, anything that costs a significant amount of money is going to be affected by the budgetary constraints we're working under."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee also was working on a health care IT bill prior to the hurricane, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 9/8).