President Bush Promotes Health Savings Accounts, Electronic Health Records in Ohio Speech
President Bush on Thursday in Ohio discussed health savings accounts and announced that he would call for $125 million in his fiscal year 2006 budget proposal to promote health care information technology and the "widespread computerization of patients' health records over the next decade," the New York Times reports. Bush, who spoke at the Cleveland Clinic to promote his domestic policy agenda, "echoed his re-election platform" and called for "private initiatives," such as health savings accounts, the New York Times reports (Kornblut/Stolberg, New York Times, 1/28).
The speech marked the second consecutive day that Bush has highlighted his proposals to expand access to health care and reduce health care costs through "market forces, rather than government action," the Washington Post reports. Bush, who appeared with medical experts and new HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, said, "The fundamental question facing the country is can we have a health care system that is available and affordable without the government running it?" He added, "I happen to believe the best health care system is one where the consumers, the patients, make the decisions" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 1/28).
Bush also discussed medical "economies of scale" and the need for FDA to "get generic drugs to the market faster" (New York Times, 1/28). The speech -- the first made by Bush after his inauguration earlier this month -- also addressed his proposals for medical liability reform and called for legislation to allow small businesses to form association health plans across state lines (Wheeler, Akron Beacon Journal, 1/28).
"We've got the best medical system in the world. The role of the federal government is to keep it that way," Bush said (Raum, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/27).
In a "talk-show-style 'conversation'" with local health care workers, Bush said that a national health information network and electronic health records are "an integral part of his agenda for reducing health care costs," the Los Angeles Times reports (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 1/28). The Cleveland Clinic has helped the federal government develop standards for EHRs, which Bush has said he hopes to have implemented nationwide within 10 years (Fletcher, Washington Post, 1/28).
"Most industries in America have used information technology to make their businesses more cost-effective ... and the truth of the matter is, health care hasn't," Bush said, adding, "We've got fantastic new pharmaceuticals that help save lives, but we've got docs still writing records by hand" (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 1/28). Bush said national implementation of EHRs could reduce health care costs by as much as 20%, adding that such records could "help change medicine and save money and save lives" (Fletcher, Washington Post, 1/28).
Bush also highlighted the need to ensure the privacy of EHRs. "I presume I'm like most Americans -- I think my medical records should be private. I don't want people prying into them ... unless I say it's fine for you to do so," he said (Sammon, Washington Times, 1/28).
Bush indicated that although the private sector should lead the effort to expand health care IT nationwide, the federal government would provide funds for demonstration programs. In addition, HHS on Thursday proposed rules to implement an "e-prescribing" program, which in January 2006 would allow Medicare beneficiaries, physicians and pharmacists to fill prescriptions through a computer (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 1/28). The White House on Thursday also announced plans to double current federal funds for efforts to expand EHRs to $100 million (Fletcher, Washington Post, 1/28).
Leavitt, in his first public appearance as HHS secretary, introduced Bush as a president who has "improved quality health care for millions" and supports individual "ownership" of health care. "When people own their own health records, when they own their own health savings, their own health insurance, it produces better care, lower costs and fewer mistakes," Leavitt said.
Bush said of Leavitt, "He's been in the job for 15 hours, and he hasn't made any mistakes yet" (New York Times, 1/28).
National Health Information Technology Coordinator David Brailer highlighted efforts by the Bush administration to expand health care IT over the next 10 years and said that a major challenge is establishing connections among hospitals to make EHRs accessible across state lines (Akron Beacon Journal, 1/28).
Martin Harris, chief information officer at the Cleveland Clinic, said, "When an electronic medical record system is in place, a patient will never have to worry about taking the wrong dose or taking the wrong medicine ... simply because somebody couldn't read the handwriting on a piece of paper" (Vieth, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).
Meanwhile, in a "reprise of the presidential campaign," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Thursday in a speech in Washington, D.C., criticized health care proposals supported by Bush, the New York Times reports. Kerry "harked back to his campaign themes" in a Families USA luncheon address to hundreds of health care advocates that was "part of a calculated effort by Mr. Kerry to make his re-entry into Washington politics," the New York Times reports (New York Times, 1/28).
In his "first major Washington speech" since the election last November, Kerry said that the "White House plan is this: Let's not import less-expensive drugs. Let's not negotiate better drug prices here in America. Let's ignore the 45 million Americans who have no health insurance at all. Let's forget about patients' rights" (Babington, Washington Post, 1/28).
Kerry said of the Bush speech, "That's how the president who promised to usher in a 'responsibility era' proposes to deal with a real and present health care crisis, even as he seeks to hype a phony crisis in Social Security" (New York Times, 1/28).
Kerry said the health care proposal Bush has offered would "let insurance costs get higher, not lower," and "abandon still more families and kids to fend for themselves. It will force still more sick people out of cheap preventive medicine and into expensive critical care, with the rest of us footing the bill" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/27). He added, "You know what that sounds like to me? Sounds like a cradle-to-grave irresponsibility plan" (New York Times, 1/28).
Kerry on Thursday also promoted a bill he introduced on Tuesday that would provide health insurance to all U.S. children. He said, "Instead of dumping the problem on cash-strapped states with a severance check and best wishes for success, my proposal states a new bargain" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/27).
The legislation would encourage states to provide health insurance to residents ages 21 and younger whose families have annual income levels that make them ineligible for Medicaid or SCHIP programs. Under the bill, the federal government would pay 66% of health care costs for children in families with annual incomes that do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level and completely fund Medicaid coverage for children in families with annual incomes at or less than the federal poverty level.
Kerry said that he would fund the legislation, which has an estimated cost of $22 billion annually, through the repeal of recent income tax reductions for U.S. residents with annual incomes of more than $350,000 (California Healthline, 1/26). Kerry said that the bill would expand health coverage to more than 11 million uninsured children (CQ HealthBeat, 1/27).
"In a city where politicians like to use the word 'values,' insuring kids is really a test of who talks about family values and who actually values families," Kerry said, adding that children "who are enrolled in public health insurance programs achieve a 68% improvement in the measurements of their school performance. ... If no child is left behind in the doctor's waiting rooms, my friends, we have a much better chance of leaving no child behind in the schools of America" (Babington, Washington Post, 1/28). Kerry said, "We shouldn't have to rely on a faith-based initiative for health care" (Baldor, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/27).
However, the legislation "has little chance of passing" in a Republican-controlled Congress, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to Los Angeles Times, some analysts said that the speech from Kerry might indicate he remains "interested in seeking the White House" (Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).