Senators Introduce Bills on Health Care Information Technology, Medicare
A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday announced "complimentary bills" that seek to improve health care quality, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 7/1). Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and ranking member Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that seeks to expand the use of health care information technology (CQ HealthBeat, 6/30).
The legislation 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 (CQ HealthBeat, 6/29).
Enzi said that he plans to mark up the legislation in committee the week after the Senate returns from the July 4 recess and hopes to hold a floor vote by the end of the month (CongressDaily, 7/1). However, HHS National Health Information Technology Coordinator David Brailer told the Senate Commerce Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness Subcommittee that he has concerns about legislation "slowing down" Bush administration efforts on health care IT, as well as the possibility that legislation "could create uncertainty about where we want to go" (CQ HealthBeat, 6/30). He added that "we haven't asked for anything" from Congress except for $125 million in appropriations for administration efforts on health care IT (Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/30).
Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would link a part of Medicare reimbursements to quality of care (CQ HealthBeat, 6/30). The bill would allow the HHS secretary to reward providers first when they report quality data and later when they improve quality or meet certain quality thresholds. The legislation would establish a "value-based purchasing" system for providers -- such as hospitals, physicians, Medicare Advantage plans, home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities. Under the bill, physicians who report quality data would receive the full update to Medicare reimbursements allowable under current law in 2007 and those who do not report quality data would have their updates reduced by 2%.
The legislation also would establish a national health care IT network pilot program that would allow providers to exchange clinical, claims and outcomes data for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as clinical trial results and practice guidelines, to help improve care (CQ HealthBeat, 6/29). Grassley said he likely will combine the bill with legislation that would cancel a scheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians by the end of the year (CongressDaily, 7/1).