Pair of new health IT bills look to pay the bill for IT

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As Health Imaging News has reported recently, there have been a slew of health IT bills introduced this year -- but none until now has offered concrete answers for paying for the technology. Two bills looking to pay for IT were introduced together at a joint news conference last week.
   
Legislation was unveiled with bi-partisan support by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called the Medicare Value Purchasing Act, and Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the Better Healthcare Through Information Technology Act.
   
The Glassley-Baucus bill would create a type of 'pay-for-performance' Medicare payment system based on quality of care and also promote new quality standards for physicians, hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. Healthcare IT would be integrated into each of the payment processes. The bill also would set aside certain amounts of Medicare hospital inpatient payments which would be taken to give bonuses to providers meeting established quality targets. A penalty system also would be established for providers who fail to participate in the reporting process.

The two bills were introduced along side each other because both addresses "quality of care and health information technology. These issues are inextricably linked. The ultimate goal of both bills is to improve the quality and lower the cost of health care," according to a summary of the bills released by Senator Kennedy's office.
   
Kennedy, however, draws a distinction between the Better Healthcare Through Information Technology Act and other legislation that has been introduced recently, such as the Frist-Clinton bill. True, the Enzi-Kennedy bill also is built on the general consensus that a public-private partnership must be created to lay out technical standards on interoperability, and providers need financial assistance to enhance their use of IT. Yet, it departs from the Frist-Clinton bill and others in specific ways:

  • It would establish a program designed to award grants directly for the purchase of health IT systems according to healthcare providers need.
  • A public-private loan fund would be created within states to make low interest loans available to providers to implement health IT systems.
  • The bill also would include a 'technical assistance center' to aid providers in implementing health IT systems, and also would seek to fund training for healthcare professionals in the appropriate use of IT.