Lawmakers address health-IT bill differences

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It would be difficult to remember all of the health-IT legislation introduced in the past year by federal lawmakers. The two biggest bills — which actually have a chance of becoming law — are The Wired for Health Care Quality Act of 2005 (S. 1418) and The Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006 (H.R. 4157). One roadblock to the passage of this legislation is the general backup of bills currently awaiting a vote, but the other hurdle is conflicts between the bills themselves. Some health-IT experts have advocated for the bills to be combined to raise the chances of passage this year.
   
For its part, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) last week released a letter to Congress stating the society's position of support for certain provisions as well as differences needed to reconcile H.R. 4157 and S. 1418.
   
As a summary, here are provisions contained in both pieces of legislation that the organization supports, according to the letter:

  • Codifying the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology;
  • Promoting studies of variations in state health information, laws, and regulations;
  • Establishment of the American Health Information Collaborative (AHIC);
  • Promoting a strategic plan for implementing health IT;
  • Establishing grant demonstration programs; and
  • Requiring agencies to allow for electronic reporting of healthcare data.

HIMSS also supports provisions that are contained only within S. 1418, such as providing $650 million in grant funding over the course of five years and the establishment of quality measures for care, among others. And the society backs the updating of IDC codes and changes to anti-kickback rules (under Stark) to make it easier for hospitals to provide health-IT systems to doctors, contained in H.R. 4157.
   
Beyond what HIMSS pinpointed, there are significant disagreements between the bills, however, that have sparked controversy between Republicans and Democrats. The Senate bill does not create national privacy standards, but rather defers to existing HIPAA regulations. Funding also has been another sore spot, with the Senate version designating some money allotments to get the programs rolling, whereas the House version does not address the funding issue.