Bush calls for HHS tech increase

Health and Human Services Department FY 2005 Budget

The Department of Health and Human Services would see a 4.4 percent boost, to $5.1 billion, in its information technology expenditures if the Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 is approved.

IT spending would be spread across agencies' more than 500 projects and programs, but there appear to be few major enhancements or new initiatives. Under the plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would get more than $2 billion in tech funds, much of it for the operating costs of the Medicaid Management Information System.

Also from the department's IT pool, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would get about $550 million, and the National Institutes of Health would get about $472 million.

CDC is continuing work on a Public Health Information Network, described as an electronic nervous system that would help monitor and maintain the public's health, and $140.5 million has been requested for that.

In 2005, NIH will begin to fully implement its medical research strategy, pursuing potentially significant initiatives during the next decade, which it started last year. The NIH Roadmap would allow the agency to better understand complex biological systems through new technologies, databases and other resources. It will encourage interdisciplinary research and public/private partnerships as well.

Not surprisingly, improving the public health infrastructure against bioterrorist attacks is a major priority with significant emphasis on technology to enhance surveillance and monitoring capabilities.

Last week, HHS, the Homeland Security and Agriculture departments announced a joint $274 million biosurveillance program involving the development of a new information-sharing network to track and analyze outbreaks, environmental monitoring, and the nation's food supply. CDC would get about $130 million of those funds under the proposal. "One of the areas where we've made our greatest achievements and face our greatest challenges is strengthening our public health infrastructure," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in his budget briefing Feb. 2. "Including the 2005 budget request, we have spent or requested nearly $15 billion since Sept. 11, 2001, and that investment is showing tangible results."

Other notable technology investments proposed include:

* $69 million, an increase of $4.5 million over fiscal 2004 in IT spending, to help the Indian Health Service enhance its nationwide Resource and Patient Management and National Patient Information Resource systems, and maintain its telecommunications infrastructure, among other things.

* $50 million of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's proposed $84 million budget for patient safety research to help communities develop various systems, such as computerized physician order entry, monitoring of potential adverse drug events, automated medication dispensing and computerized reminder systems. About $24 million would help the agency work with others on a common Web interface for medical providers and a streamlined reporting system. The remaining $10 million would be used to develop clinical terminology and messaging standards.

* $50 million in new state and regional demonstration grants to test the feasibility of information exchange among health care organizations and other innovative IT projects to improve health care quality. Some funds will also be used to accelerate development of health data standards.

* $44 million for HHS to continue developing its unified financial management system.

Overall, the Bush administration is asking for a 2005 budget of $580 billion for HHS, an increase of $32 billion, or 6 percent, over the 2004 request. About $66 billion of the total is classified as discretionary spending; the remainder pays for entitlement programs such as Medicare.

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