Gingrich-led group urges more spending for health IT

Center for Health Transformation

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A Washington, D.C.-based organization led by a former House speaker recommends that the federal government should invest billions of dollars and create a new health office to oversee activities related to interoperable health information technology.

Officials from the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) recently published a white paper that they submitted to Dr. David Brailer, who is the federal government's czar on electronic health records, for consideration. Brailer is expected to present an update on a national health IT plan next week. Led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, organization officials outlined a number of recommendations in their white paper for the federal government to consider, including promoting greater use of technology tools and applications, funding demonstration projects nationwide and among federal agencies, and forging partnerships with other public and private groups.

The group also said Health and Human Services Department officials should rethink next year's budget and aggressively plan for the fiscal 2006 budget to incorporate health IT initiatives and coordinate with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to advance the issue within the federal government.

Without greater federal investment and an oversight office, interoperable health IT will languish nationwide and in the federal government, said Anne Woodbury, CHT's chief health advocate.

"We should at least invest 1 percent of all federal health spending into IT related services, grants and loans," she said. "That ends up being a big chunk of change." It amounts to a $7.9 billion federal governmentwide investment that could wind up saving about 20 percent of total federal health care spending.

Woodbury also said Brailer's office should become a federal health IT agency with statutory authority to oversee and manage technologies, financing and actions in and outside the federal government. She said he should have a larger budget to help develop activities.

"The biggest issue is [that] he doesn't have any money," Woodbury said. "That's not realistic [in order] to get this job done. Unless we have a serious conversation about how much this is going to cost, it's going to die a slow death."

During the past 20 years, private-sector initiatives have dealt with health IT standards and electronic medical records, but still they haven't been widely adopted. She said the federal government is the largest purchaser of health care services and can help spur greater penetration.

Woodbury, who served as a special assistant to Gingrich when he was House speaker, said it is unusual for a conservative Republican to call for government expansion and more spending, but she said the stakes are high: saving human lives.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a $457 million budget to help make the workplace safer, she said. In 2003, there were more than 5,500 fatal work accidents, compared to more than 90,000 deaths that resulted from medical errors alone. Even getting a $500 million budget for Brailer's office could help, she added.

"What we're asking the government to do is one of the reasons why the government exists to protect its citizens," Woodbury said.

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