Kerry prods Republicans on health IT funding

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) exposed rifts in the bipartisan push for congressional support of health information technology Thursday when he criticized Republicans for failing to commit to spending more than $150 million for health IT next year.

Kerry said that amount was what one hospital system in the Boston area might spend on health IT. “You’re talking about a nationwide system?” he asked at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness. “It’s a joke.”

“What disturbs me is that…we don’t have the political will evidently” to invest the kind of sums that will be required to bring the nation’s health care providers into the 21st century with respect to IT, Kerry said.

Kerry said the Republicans were aiming to cut taxes for the rich instead of putting money into systems that could save lives and reduce overall health care costs for Americans.

He is one of the few who have taken a partisan stance on health IT in recent weeks. Instead, leading members of both parties have co-sponsored several bills and expressed their common desire to move health IT forward.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), chairman of the subcommittee, tried to preserve bipartisan amity at the hearing, saying, “There’s no need for it to be a partisan issue.”

Later Kerry asked Ensign and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) to work to ensure that the administration’s budget for the office of the national coordinator of health IT in the Health and Human Services Department passes intact. Kerry said he had heard that the office was threatened with budget cuts in the Senate.

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