Senate passes stimulus bill, with $19B for healthcare IT

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The U.S. Senate Tuesday passed its version of President Barack Obama's stimulus package, setting the stage for lawmakers to iron out the details and resolve the differences in two congressional bill's healthcare IT provisions.

A joint House-Senate conference committee will now meet to resolve the discrepancies, which include different funding levels to accelerate adoption of healthcare IT, as well as different language in the IT policy and health information privacy provisions. In the Senate bill, overall healthcare IT spending is approximately $19 billion, compared with $20 billion in the House bill, according to CQ Today.

The Senate bill also grants $3 billion in discretionary funds for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT) to disseminate grants and loans to increase healthcare IT adoption. The House version sets aside $2 billion for discretionary funding, primarily targeting community health centers, and community hospitals and physician practices, especially within rural areas.

However, the Senate version would have a $1.5 million cap on the amount that critical-access hospitals could receive to purchase healthcare IT, CQ Today reported.

Additionally, lawmakers will work on the privacy provisions within the healthcare IT allotment. For instance, the Senate bill would do less than the House bill to limit sales of patient information and the sending of fundraising solicitations to patients without their permission. The Senate version would also give the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) more latitude to issue rules about accounting for disclosures of patient information, reported Government Health IT.