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Legislators Push Digitized Health Records

May 25, 2007 Digital HealthCare & Productivity.com

by Stephen Barlas

One Congressman noted the blustery conditions on the outdoor terrace attached to the House Cannon Office Building and hoped it was a sign of the “winds of change” blowing through Capitol Hill on the issue of health information technology. But it was apparent from the remarks of Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), chairman of the House Small Business regulations, healthcare and trade subcommittee, and his House and Senate colleagues gathered for the outdoor press conference on May 16, that there are also still substantial head winds impeding the forward movement of health IT bills.

The press conference was held in conjunction with National Health IT Week 2007, and was organized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Gonzalez, Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Dennis Moore (D-KS) and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) all discussed bills they had recently introduced or would soon be introducing. Many of the proposals were introduced in past Congresses, where they stalled. All of the bills in one form or another seek to spike adoption of health IT by health care providers.

The political roadblocks which impeded legislative progress in the past still remain. The two most imposing are what the bills would cost the federal treasury in lost revenue—adding to the budget deficit—and concerns from consumer groups that electronic health records equal loss of personal privacy.

“A lot has been made about the cost of this,” Kennedy admitted. His Personalized Health Information Act of 2007 would allow the secretary of HHS to provide financial incentives to health care providers for the use of interactive qualifying personal health records. Gonzalez’s bill, the National Health Information Incentive Act of 2007, authorizes the secretary of HHS to make grants to small medical care providers.

Kennedy complained about estimates of the costs of the various bills done by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) saying those estimates do not take into account the ultimate savings to the federal government from implementation of electronic health records. Gingrey referred to the CBO’s methodology as “the idiocy of static budget scoring.”

Sen. Whitehouse pointed out that the Rand Corporation has estimated that health care spending could be cut by as much as $346 billion if health IT is adopted at a maximum level. “With savings like that, why is it not happening,” he asked?

He answered his own question by alluding to Medicare’s failure to reimburse providers for investments in health care IT and a “deficit” of government leadership. “But if we don’t do our duty now, in five, eight or ten years we are going to have to tell a little old lady in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that she doesn’t have Medicare any longer.”