Senate slashes HHS health IT budget

Senate 2006 Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday passed a spending bill that slashes the fiscal 2006 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Information Technology from the requested $75 million to $45.2 million.

The Senate did leave intact the Bush administration’s $50 million request for the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality.

The House passed its version of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies bill June 24. That bill approved the president’s $125 million health IT budget, including the $75 million request for the national health IT coordinator’s office and $50 million for the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality. A conference committee will resolve the funding differences later this year.

During a conference call with potential bidders for the National Health Information Network earlier this summer, Dr. David Brailer, HHS’ national coordinator for IT, said he planned to use the 2006 budget for his office to fund as many as eight contracts for prototypes of a health information network. HHS officials plan to award contracts for that network in early October.

About 200 companies may bid on the six information network contracts, which vendors estimate could be worth $60 million total.

The Senate’s budget frugality contrasts with strong backing for health IT from its leadership. Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a health IT bill backed by Sens. Michael Enzi (R-Wyp.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass).

The Senate budget for health IT is on par with appropriations in Canada, which has allocated roughly $84 million a year to develop health IT projects in partnership with Canadian provinces. U.S. funding is way below the $2 billion a year Britain’s National Health Service plans to spend on health IT over the next decade.

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