Feds push e-prescriptions

CMS proposed e-prescribing rule

Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt announced new regulations intended to help provide electronic prescriptions for Medicare patients when their new drug benefits take effect next January.

E-prescribing allows doctors to electronically transmit a prescription to a pharmacy selected by a patient and also allows doctors and pharmacies to obtain information from drug plans about a patient's eligibility and medical history.

President Bush views e-prescribing as an "important new step" in his health IT plan, which includes development of a nationwide electronic health record within a decade. Bush said in a Jan. 28 speech that he plans to increase funding by $125 million for health IT demonstration projects in his 2006 budget.

Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, said the new e-prescribing regulations are required by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, and added that CMS is "committed to widespread use of e-prescribing as quickly as possible."

The proposed e-prescribing regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Feb. 4, with public comments due by April 5. McClellan said CMS is "laying the foundation for having major e-prescribing standards in place when the Medicare drug benefit begins" in January 2006.

HHS said in a statement that it plans to run pilot projects to test e-prescribing standards and plans to solicit applications from doctors, physicians groups and prescription drug plan sponsors and other appropriate entities to participate in the pilots.

E-prescribing can improve patient safety and reduce avoidable health care costs by decreasing prescription errors due to hard-to-read physician handwriting and by automating the process of checking for drug interactions and allergies.

The Defense Department has operated an e-prescribing system for more than 9 million active duty and retired personnel and family members in the military health system since November 2001.

Air Force Col. James Young, director of the Defense Department pharmacy program, said the system, run by WebMD Corp., automatically checks for potential adverse drug reactions and then routes the prescription for the patient to pick up at about 55,000 military or civilian pharmacies nationwide.

James Reardon, the long-time Military Health System CIO, who plans to retire this month, told Congress last year that the military e-prescribing system prevented more than 99,000 potentially life threatening adverse drug reactions since it started operation in 2001.

Besides asking for $125 million for health care IT demonstration projects in his 2006 budget, Bush will seek to add $50 million for such projects in his 2005 budget on top of the $50 million already allocated, a White House spokesman said. Bush said in Cleveland on Jan. 27 that he wants to "encourage information technology in a field like health care that will save lives, make patients more involved in decision-making, and save money for the American people."

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