Frist, Clinton team for health tech

Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) today introduced a health information technology bill designed to continue and expand the current federal approach.

The Health Technology to Enhance Quality bill -- dubbed "Health TEQ" by the senators -- emphasizes voluntary action by the health care industry and agreements on standards that would permit secure, nationwide communication of individuals’ health records as needed.

It calls for spending $125 million annually for five years on demonstrations and pilot tests of the standards. Other provisions would boost the quality programs now in their early stages at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Frist-Clinton bill was the second bipartisan health IT bill to be introduced in the Senate this week. On June 13, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced their Health Information Technology bill.

Craig Orfield, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, confirmed that Enzi will introduce a health IT bill, probably in the next month. Orfield declined to describe the bill’s contents.

The Snowe-Stabenow bill would establish a $4 billion grant program to help doctors, hospitals and other health care institutions install new computer systems for clinical information and patient safety. Also, Medicare payments would increase for providers using clinical IT systems.

Both Senate bills were endorsed by public and private organizations.

The Frist-Clinton bill quickly drew criticism from one supplier of electronic medical records systems, however. Girish Kumar, founder of and vice president of sales and marketing at eClinicalWorks in Westborough, Mass., said the measure lacks financial incentives like those in the Snowe-Stabenow bill.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Frist said the bipartisan nature of Health TEQ -- whose chief sponsors are widely viewed as potential presidential candidates for their respective parties in 2008 -- made a strong statement about the importance of health technology.

"We are on the verge of a tremendous breakthrough," Clinton said. Both senators touted increases in patient safety, quality of care and efficiency that could be attained with interoperable medical records systems.

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