Try, Try Again: Health IT on the Agenda in Congress

A group of lawmakers and health care industry leaders on Wednesday convened on Capitol Hill to voice their support for health IT adoption. Senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle touted health IT’s potential to lower costs and improve care and many noted their plans to introduce legislation that would promote the purchase and use of health IT.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) kicked off the press conference — which coincided with National Health IT Week — by calling for bipartisan, meaningful legislation and policy solutions that change the incentive system in health care and protect patients’ privacy. Kennedy said that the health system needs to use evidence-based, cost-effective treatments so that the nation is “paying for what works.” Clinical outcomes data are needed to get to that point, and health IT is the way to get there, he said.

Kennedy also said he plans to reintroduce health IT legislation this session. Feeling a sense of déjà vu?

It should. Kennedy and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Penn.) — co-chairs of the House’s 21st Century Health Care Caucus — in 2005 introduced the 21st Century Health Information Act, which proposed offering doctors and hospitals incentives to adopt health IT networks. Despite a flurry of legislative activity in 2005 — including a health IT bill introduced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) — no bills passed.

However, that doesn’t mean that lawmakers have ceased their support for health IT. Besides Kennedy, the following lawmakers proclaimed the virtues of health IT at the press conference:

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.);
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.);
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.);
  • Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas);
  • Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.); and
  • Murphy.

Stabenow on Wednesday was scheduled to reintroduce a health IT bill with co-sponsor Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The bill, which also was first introduced in 2005, would give more than $4 billion in grants over five years to health care providers adopting health IT. Stabenow said the bill addresses privacy concerns and includes tax incentives for physicians who purchase technology.

Moore — who last year co-sponsored the Independent Health Record Bank Act of 2006, which was geared toward establishing a nationwide health IT network — said he plans to reintroduce that legislation next week. Meanwhile, Gonzalez and Gingrey last month introduced health IT legislation (HR 1952) that would authorize Medicare payment incentives for small provider organizations using IT, as well as offer grants and loans to these organizations for adopting IT.

Now comes the hard question: Will any of these bills actually pass? Health IT has been hailed as a way to improve health care while reducing costs. What politician wouldn’t want to attach their name to a cause like that? Does introducing legislation mean that lawmakers are willing to fight for this cause, or do they just want their names to be associated with the effort? If the recycled bills didn’t pass the first time around, does the legislation have a chance now?

These are just questions now, as it remains to be seen how this all will play out. However, according to Stabenow, “Now’s the time to get it done.”

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