Congress passes health IT bill, rejects another

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On Friday, the Senate passed a bill that would promote the use of healthcare information technology to help prevent medical errors and reduce costs, according to Congressional Quarterly Today

The legislation, sponsored by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), includes provisions of a bill co-sponsored by Enzi and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and a second bill co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

The bill -- the Wired for Health Care Quality Act (S.1418) -- would authorize into statute the Office of the National Coordinator of IT within HHS. Under the legislation, HHS would award grants to hospitals, group physician practices and other healthcare providers to help increase the use of health IT systems. The bill also would clarify that current medical privacy rules would apply to health information stored or sent electronically.

The Wired for Health Care Quality Act bill is not without its detractors. One watchdog group called Patient Privacy Rights has voiced concern, claiming that the bill does not provide sufficient patient protections to block access for people who do not have rights see certain information, said Deborah Peel, MD, the group's president, USA Today reported.

Peel says that patients deserve the right to designate who can see their medical information and when. Patients also should be given the ability to pick and choose which information is available in electronic format or which can be shared at all.

Meanwhile, the House on Thursday voted 224-209 to reject a bill that would have given HHS $61.7 million for health IT in fiscal year 2006. The budget was approved in conference by members of the House and Senate, but all House Democratic members and several Republican members opposed the bill.

Because of the vote, Congress will be unable to finish its budget work before the Thanksgiving recess.