Bill would give feds e-health records

Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) said yesterday that he plans to introduce legislation to mandate the creation of an electronic health record (EHR) for every person covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.

Porter, who heads the House Government Reform Committee’s Federal Workforce and Agency Organization Subcommittee, said the program would become “the largest [health information technology] demonstration project in the country.” The program covers about 4 million current and retired federal employees.

Under his bill, each person covered would get a wallet-size EHR identification card within five years of the law’s enactment.

Speaking at a committee hearing on health IT, Porter said the bill would phase in the EHR requirement, beginning with records of claims paid by the participating insurance companies. “The other components, a personal health record and a provider-based record, will be phased in accordingly,” he said.

Porter said the bill, to be called the Federal Family Health IT Act, also would provide for reductions in liability insurance premiums for physicians who use health IT systems. The systems are expected to reduce medical errors by providing decision support tools, making more information available at doctors’ fingertips and eliminating problems in reading handwritten notes or instructions.

At a July hearing before the subcommittee, Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer said this year’s annual “call letter” from OPM to health insurance plans, inviting them to propose benefit levels and rates for the coming year, “strongly encouraged plans to take steps to improve their” health IT.

OPM was reviewing those responses “to establish a baseline from which we can measure progress” on health IT, Springer said. “Currently none of the FEHB plans have entirely electronic-based information systems,” she added.

At yesterday’s hearing, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said he too plans to introduce a health IT bill. His bill would set into law the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and set milestones for federal agencies’ work to advance health IT, he said. It also would create a program to make loans to physicians to help them finance acquisition of clinical records systems, he added.

Meanwhile, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee, is still reviewing the comments she received on a draft health IT bill she circulated over the summer. Sources said she is likely to introduce the bill in October.

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