Senate HELP Committee Chair To Introduce Joint Measure on Health Care IT
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday announced a compromise measure that would combine a bill he cosponsored with committee ranking member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) with a measure co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) designed to expand the use of health care information technology, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 7/20).
The Enzi/Kennedy bill would establish "interoperability" standards and privacy protections for a health care IT system. The bill also would authorize in statute a national coordinator for health care IT, establish grants for providers to improve their use of health care IT and provide federal funds to establish regional health care IT networks. In addition, the legislation would establish a Best Practices Center, where health care IT users could learn from established regional networks, as well as a help line developed with HHS for providers who seek to establish programs (California Healthline, 7/5).
The Rodham Clinton/Frist bill (S 1262), introduced in June, would authorize $125 million in grants annually over five years to create local or regional health information organizations to develop health care IT standards. The standards would be mandatory for federal government programs and voluntary for the private sector. Physicians who participate in the project would be eligible for increased reimbursement rates under the legislation. The bill also would create an exemption in current federal law to allow health care providers and insurers to provide health care IT equipment to physicians within the scope of certain goals, such as reducing medical errors, lowering costs or improving quality. In addition, the bill calls for the HHS secretary to establish a "value-based purchasing pilot program" under Medicare to encourage reporting of health care quality data and create a performance-based payment system for health care providers. The HHS secretary could expand the purchasing program nationwide after two years.
The bill also would codify HHS' Office of National Coordination for Information Technology, which currently is developing interoperability standards. The legislation is projected to save as much as $200 billion annually (California Healthline, 6/17).
The committee was scheduled to mark up the joint bill on Tuesday. Enzi in a statement said, "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, safer and more efficient" (CongressDaily, 7/20).
In related news, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to mark up several health care-related bills in an effort to move the bills to the floor before Congress adjourns for August recess. Bills to be marked up include the following:
- Health insurance pools: The measure (HR 3204), sponsored by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), would reauthorize a grant program that expired September 2004 for states that establish health insurance pools for high-risk individuals. The health subcommittee approved the bill July 14, and the Senate HELP committee approved a version of the bill (S 288) on Feb 9. Shadegg expects the measure to be combined with a bill (HR 2355) he sponsored that would allow insurers to sell policies in other states while being subject to regulation only in the primary state.
- Medical error reporting: The bill (HR 3205), sponsored by Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.), would encourage voluntary reporting of medical errors by establishing a legal framework to log reports and establishing an HHS database to catalog reports and identify trends. The bill also would authorize $25 million in grants during fiscal year 2006 and 2007 for technology upgrades to reduce hospital errors. The health subcommittee on July 14 approved the bill, and the HELP committee on March 9 approved a Senate version (S 544) sponsored by Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.).
- Prescription drug records: The bill (HR 1132), sponsored by Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.), would expand access to patient prescription drug records in an effort to limit drug abuse and avoid drug interactions. The bill aims to improve patient information databases and establish a system for drug data through which physicians and pharmacists could indicate harmful drug interactions or abuses. Under the measure, states would be authorized to share information with health care providers and law enforcement. The health subcommittee approved the bill June 22 (Schuler, CQ Today, 7/20).