Kennedy moves toward health reform

Senator introduces first major legislation on health reform

House and Senate Democratic leaders are putting health care reform legislation on a fast track, with information technology provisions on board the train.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a long-awaited bill to reform the health care system and make coverage available to all Americans. The 651-page bill would require individuals to buy insurance, expand eligibility for Medicaid and other subsidies, prohibit insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and set up a health exchange through which individuals could buy and compare coverage.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders circulated a draft of a health care reform bill that would establish a government-sponsored health care option that would compete with private insurers. Such a plan has long been a staple of President Barack Obama's health care agenda.

The Senate bill contains several health IT provisions. It directs the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, with the help of two advisory groups created under the economic stimulus law, to set standards for interoperable information systems to electronically enroll individuals in federal and state health programs.

But a coalition of groups is urging that health IT provisions in the economic stimulus law be fully integrated into health reform.

The eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit group that represents 165 vendors and health care providers, issued a statement saying: “If the adoption and meaningful use of health IT is viewed as a separate endeavor from health reform, the likelihood will only increase that the money spent to encourage health IT adoption and information exchange will be squandered due to our failure to leverage the capacity of electronic health information and tools."

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to begin marking up the bill, with amendments, on June 16. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) will lead the markup while Kennedy is under treatment for brain cancer.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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