House approves new health IT legislation
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006 (H.R. 4157), a bill that sets out to improve care, reduce medical errors, and ease the exchange of essential health information via health IT adoption, and the implementation of standards, among other tactics.
The bill was originally proposed last November by House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Nathan Deal (R-Ga.). In its most recent form, it empowered the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to oversee standards for storing medical related data and standards development relating to interoperability.
Another major part of the legislation includes a section established to create a “Safe Harbor” within Stark and anti-kickback laws to ease the process through which hospitals and other organizations can provide physicians with technology and support services.
New amendments to the bill include:
  • The creation of a project that will showcase the effects of health IT towards disease management for Medicaid recipients;
  • Provisions for areas that are viewed as underserved by the healthcare industry, such as isolated areas or urban areas in need and saddled with many uninsured individuals; and
  • An amendment that calls for the further development of healthcare benchmarks in health IT utilization.
There has been a lot of support for the legislation, including from the White House. “The administration supports House passage of HR 4157, which will promote a nationwide interoperable health information technology network that will help Americans receive high-quality medical care by giving healthcare providers and patients secure and privacy-protected access to patients’ medical information and history at the time of care,” according to a policy statement regarding the legislation from the Office of Management and Budget.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) last week also issued a statement of support for the bill, citing the anti-kickback as well as funding provisions as major reasons for its decision to get behind it.
"We urge members of the House to expeditiously pass this legislation now as a critical step toward realizing the President's goal of electronic health records for most Americans," said HIMSS President/CEO H. Stephen Lieber. "We believe that H.R. 4157 contains provisions such as grants funding and Stark Reform that will help the industry to fulfill President Bush's goal of most Americans having an electronic health record by the year 2014. The passage of this legislation is critical to moving us towards these benefits."
In another sign of industry support, Information Technology Industry Council President Rhett Dawson described the bill as a major development in the effort to modernize healthcare in the U.S.
Siemens Medical Solutions has also come out in support of the legislation, stating in a release that “We are moving in the right direction to transform our healthcare system into one with reduced administrative costs, increased quality and efficiency, and improved patient safety checks.” The company noted that it is particularly supporting of a new portion of the legislation that will requiring the HHS to establish a two-year pilot project to demonstrate the impact of HIT on disease management for Medicaid patients suffering from chronic diseases.