Senate passes health IT bill

Bipartisan 'Wired for Health Care Quality Act' now goes to House for action

Health IT bills merged

Bipartisan legislation to promote the use of health IT passed the Senate by a voice vote early Friday morning.

The news cheered health IT advocates even as it became increasingly clear that House action on health IT would be unlikely before 2006. The House is finding it difficult to complete its budget and appropriations bills, which are behind schedule.

S. 1418, the Senate bill, is a combination of legislation proposed by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) ranking minority member of the HELP Committee; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Known as the Wired for Health Care Quality Act, the bill would establish by law the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, which President Bush created by executive order. It would give legislative support to many of the activities already under way in that Health and Human Services office and elsewhere in the executive branch.

Among other provisions, it would require HHS to promulgate health IT standards and then require that all federal health IT purchases conform to those standards. It also would authorize grants and loans to support adoption of health IT by health care providers.

The bill also calls for developing health care quality measures and then reporting the quality scores of providers receiving federal funds.

It would require strong privacy protections for online health information and notification of patients if their medical information is wrongfully disclosed.

The bill would authorize various forms of assistance to encourage health IT adoption, but appropriations would be needed to get the money into the budget. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of S. 1418 pegs the costs at $40 million in 2006 and more in succeeding years, peaking at $167 million in 2010.

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