Thompson: 'Drive technology'

Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned today, joining the growing list of top-level Bush administration officials leaving the administration before the President starts his second term.

At a press conference this afternoon, Thompson said he considered an emphasis on health care information technology one of the hallmarks of his tenure as secretary, saying "if we are serious about transforming health care, we have to drive technology."

But Thompson leaves HHS with less funding than he requested for an important health IT project, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, led by Dr. David Brailer. Congress cut $50 million from the HHS budget for that office this fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for Brailer said Bush administration officials remain committed to developing a nationwide electronic health record system during the next decade. She said the funding cuts would not jeopardize Brailer's job or office but would restrict some planned work on records systems this year.

But electronic health records projects backed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality retained $50 million in funding this year, the spokeswoman added.

Thompson said he planed to resign last year but was asked to stay on until the end of 2004. President Bush has not announced a replacement, but Thompson said he had heard speculation that Dr. David McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was a likely candidate.

McClellan would be a fine HHS secretary, Thompson said, adding, "I hear that [former speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich is interested in the job, too."

McClellan and Gingrich have been strong advocates of the application of IT in health care.

McClellan, who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration before moving to Medicare and Medicaid Services, has strongly backed the use of bar codes and radio frequency identification tags to track and manage prescription drugs.

Gingrich leads the Center for Health Transformation, which advocates the use of health IT systems, including electronic health records, to improve the quality of patient care and help slash the country's growing medical budget.

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