HHS head concerned about HIT bill

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Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is concerned that the health information technology bill pending in the Senate “would create significant barriers to continued progress already under way,” he said in a June 26 letter, according to Government Health IT News.

Writing to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Leavitt took exception to several portions of the bipartisan Wired for Health Care Quality Act that the committee approved on a voice vote. It is awaiting action by the full Senate.

Leavitt objected to provisions concerning the American Health Information Community and a new organization the bill would create, called the Partnership for Health Care Improvement.

Noting that he is trying to move AHIC out of government, the secretary said “the draft legislation would undo what is presently a successful health IT public/private partnership and stop current work in its tracks.” He decried the bill’s provisions calling for Congress to appoint AHIC members and said that “adding a second advisory committee…would be counterproductive – adding an additional layer of complexity to the health IT governance structure.”

Without changes in the provisions concerning the two advisory panels, the letter states, “the [Bush] administration would oppose passage of this legislation.”

Leavitt also expressed disagreement with the bill’s provisions to create grant programs to spur health IT adoption. “The most appropriate and efficient ways to achieve widespread use of health IT are through market forces, rather than through direct subsidization of health IT purchases,” the letter states.

He also objected to provisions that would create quality reporting organizations, require HHS to designate a single organization to promote development of performance measures for healthcare, establish a health resource center in HHS, and extend the privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 to operators of EHR repositories and exchanges.