Health IT bills merged

The sponsors of two major Senate bills to promote health information technology have joined forces, merging the Frist-Clinton bill with the Enzi-Kennedy bill to produce “the Wired for Health Care Quality Act.”

The bill, S. 1418, would authorize the Health and Human Services Department to award grants for IT to doctors, hospitals, other health care providers, regional or local health information exchanges, and to states so the states could establish health IT loan programs. The grants would require varying amounts of matching funds to be supplied by the grant recipients.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), is expected to mark up the bill Wednesday, an indication that Senate passage could be speedy after the August recess.

Almost one-quarter of the Senate had signed on as co-sponsors of the Enzi-Kennedy bill, S. 1355, since its introduction about three weeks ago. The Frist-Clinton bill had 13 co-sponsors besides Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

The bills, both of them with prominent bipartisan sponsors, were similar in many respects. The new bill would make official the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in the Department of Health and Human Services, create a mechanism for adopting health IT standards, authorize grants to individuals and regional consortiums and promote the use of health care quality metrics.

Still pending are at least four other health IT bills introduced this year in the Senate and at least two in the House.

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