Senate and House disagree on health IT spending

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When the Senate returns from summer recess next week, it will face the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT) spending bill. The House already passed its version of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department appropriations bill on July 11, but the two houses of Congress will most likely disagree on spending limits.

President Bush’s proposed budget calls for spending $117.9 million on health IT for 2008, up sharply from this year’s $61.3 million, but neither house of Congress seems ready to fund ONCHIT at that level.

The House bill would hold 2008 spending at the 2007 level, while the Senate Appropriations Committee bill would increase it to $71 million, about $10 million more than this year.

The House Appropriations Committee said it did not increase spending on health IT because of concerns that ONC “has yet to develop a detailed and integrated implementation plan for achieving the health IT program’s strategic goals, as recommended" by the Government Accountability Office.

The committee asked HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to provide a strategic plan by March 1, 2008. The committee also requested privacy and security frameworks.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill contains no such language.

The Congress is also under time restraints because it should pass the bill before the 2008 fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 and the Senate received the spending bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 21.

If the Senate passes a bill calling for more or less ONCHIT spending than the House bill provides, the two houses will have to negotiate a compromise in a conference committee.