Senate Committee Approves Compromise Bill To Expand Health Care Information Technology Use
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote a measure (S 1418) intended to expand the use of information technology among health care providers, CongressDaily reports. The bill is compromise legislation, including provisions of a bill (S 1355) co-sponsored by HELP Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) 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.) (Rovner/Heil, CongressDaily, 7/20).
The compromise bill would:
- Approve 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;
- Authorize HHS to award grants to health education centers to integrate health IT systems into their programs;
- Authorize in statute a national coordinator for health care IT;
- Require federal agencies that gather health information to comply with such standards within three years after the policies are implemented;
- Forbid federal funds from being spent on technology not consistent with the standards;
- Establish a Health Information Technology Resource Center to help states implement health IT systems;
- Indicate that HITRC privacy rules would apply to any health information stored or transmitted electronically (Hopkins, CQ Today, 7/20); and
- Establish a quality measurement system that would provide higher payments to health care providers with improved quality scores.
In addition, language that would have eased provisions of federal law to allow a hospital to donate a computer system to a physician's practice if the system resulted in safer or more efficient care was removed on Wednesday, CQ HealthBeat reports. Removal of the language could reduce the likelihood of "hoped-for donations of IT to physician practices," according to CQ HealthBeat.
A Senate leadership aide said that the Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the law on hospital payments to physicians, adding that the finance committee could add the language to the bill. The full Senate is expected to consider the bill "early next week," CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat , 7/20).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Wednesday said he was confident that the bill would "be supportive of our efforts."
In his testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday Leavitt said that establishing interoperability standards "is right at the heart of nearly every aspect of my mission" at the department (CongressDaily, 7/20). He added that health care IT "won't achieve the vision that many of you espouse" until interoperability is achieved.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said health care providers should begin to establish computer networks now "so they're ready" when interoperability occurs. She said, "We can't wait to begin, to get them online, to get them the equipment soon" (CQ HealthBeat , 7/20).
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said, "Because we share this goal, we have worked together to combine our bills into one that will bring the government and the private sector together to build new electronic pathways for medical data, and thereby provide all Americans with health care that is better" (CQ HealthBeat , 7/20).
"All of us believe that if we move from a paper-based health care system to secure electronic medical records, we will reduce mistakes, save lives, save time and save money," Enzi said (CQ Today, 7/20).
The Senate HELP Committee also on Wednesday approved by voice vote a bill (S 1420) that would maintain the use of fees paid by medical device makers to fund FDA review of marketing applications, CQ HealthBeat reports. The fees are intended to hasten FDA review of medical device applications by providing funds for the agency to hire additional reviewers.
The bill would reduce the annual fee increases that device makers pay for product reviews and would increase the number of firms that pay the fees by increasing from $30 million to $100 million the annual revenue ceiling for firms subject to the fees. In addition, the bill includes language addressing labeling requirements for devices that can be reused.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week (CQ HealthBeat , 7/20).