Healthcare IT weighed for economic stimulus package

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Economic stimulus might also benefit the healthcare IT industry. Image Source: Wendy Usually Wanders  

Under discussion among Senate healthcare leaders is whether healthcare IT should be added to the programs that would be funded under the economic stimulus package now being crafted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama and congressional staff members.

According to Government Health IT, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to have a broad economic stimulus plan ready for Obama to sign by the time he takes office Jan. 20, and it may be ready earlier. The package, which could inject as much as $500 billion into large public works programs, has led to a scramble to identify projects that would create jobs and spur economic growth.

While transportation infrastructure and green energy top the list of projects being considered, healthcare officials are considering using the bill to encourage adoption of healthcare IT, the goal of several nearly successful attempts to pass healthcare IT legislation this year.

One strategy would be to attach the Wired for Health Care Quality Act to the stimulus legislation, reported Government Health IT. The Wired bill, which failed to pass the Senate this summer, created incentives for healthcare IT adoption and addressed several security and privacy problems that had long delayed action on the bill.  
Even without the benefit of an economic stimulus, healthcare IT analysts believe 2009 has the makings of a notable year for healthcare IT. Those expectations have been set since the summer, when the Obama campaign released a healthcare policy outline that called for $50 billion to fund healthcare IT programs.

In considering the year ahead, health IT experts at the eHealth Initiative conference in Washington, D.C. this week, offered ways the incoming administration's healthcare IT team could make the best use of the money and commitment.

Jeffrey Kang, MD, chief medical officer of CNA Healthcare and president of the eHealth Initiative, said he believed the healthcare IT community was at an “inflection point” marking what the private sector could accomplish in setting up national healthcare IT systems without greater involvement by the federal government.

Kang said one of his biggest worries was that consumer privacy concerns would bog down progress on health information streamlining in the coming year. “I’m worried that they won’t be able to figure it out in legislation,” he said.

Instead of striving for a legislative fix, Kang proposed that privacy become the focus of a governance process that addressed privacy policies and security an ongoing basis. “I would propose that they consider privacy more of a process so that these issues could be dealt with as they come up as a matter of rules and administration,” he said.