OPM asks health providers for IT plans

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Office of Personnel Management officials want companies that provide health coverage for federal employees to convert to electronic health records, and they want providers to submit their information technology plans soon.

President Bush is promoting a nationwide e-health records initiative that will likely start in the federal health care system. More than 8 million current and former government workers and their dependents are enrolled in the system.

OPM officials have asked more than 250 health insurance plans to begin IT initiatives. Officials have asked health insurance carriers to submit information by May 31 on their health IT plans for the next season, which begins in November, when federal workers can switch health plans.

"Electronic medical records will be a collaborative effort among health plans, pharmacies and the whole system," said Anne Easton, OPM's insurance policy manager. "We are asking [carriers] to tell us what they are doing and what's going on in their local area. That will help give us the baseline to help move this forward."

Bush issued an executive order a year ago asking health care providers to help create a nationwide health IT infrastructure. The president said he wanted most Americans to have e-health records by 2014.

In a letter to insurance carriers in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, OPM officials outlined steps that companies can take to promote e-health records and protect employees' medical privacy.

"What we want to do at this point is to take the pulse of the community of carriers" about converting to e-health records, said Frank Titus, OPM's assistant director for insurance programs.

The president's 10-year initiative also calls for enabling doctors to send prescription orders to pharmacists electronically.

But such a plan is many years from becoming a reality. Health insurance companies are not interoperable and lack common language standards for exchanging e-health records.

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