Health Care IT Programs Remain Priority

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Health Care IT

Congressional Democrats remain "dedicated" to efforts to promote the use of health care information technology, despite provisions in the fiscal year 2009 budget request released on Monday by President Bush that would reduce spending for such programs, congressional staffers and industry experts said on Wednesday during a Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics briefing, CQ HealthBeat reports. The budget request would provide $168 million for health care IT and electronic health records programs at HHS, including $66 million to help the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT develop and implement programs within the department and $45 million for the health care IT division of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In addition, the budget request would provide $458 million for health care IT at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the briefing, Christine Bechtel, vice president of public policy for eHealth Initiative, said that the budget request seeks to reduce spending for health care IT because of the current fiscal and political situation, not because of a lack of interest in such programs. P. Jon White, health care IT director for AHRQ, said, "It's not about IT. It's about improving quality," adding, "Health IT projects by themselves do not reach goals. Just like any tool, you have to use health IT right." Mike Quear, staff director for the House Science and Technology Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, said, "We have to teach health care providers how to use the system for it to be effective."

According to CQ HealthBeat, although health care IT "has been a longtime priority for President Bush and Congress has tried several times in recent years to pass more sweeping legislation," those efforts "have faltered amid concerns about patient privacy and the lack of a single standard for electronic record keeping" (Nylen, CQ HealthBeat, 2/7).

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Medicare EHR Pilot Program
In related news, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Thursday spoke at a meeting in Virginia as part of a national tour to encourage communities to participate in a five-year Medicare pilot program that uses EHRs, the
Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

During the meeting, held at the Virginia state Capitol, Leavitt said that, although many hospital systems and large medical practices have begun to use EHRs, smaller practices cannot afford and do not believe they need the technology. He said, "Most of them know this is going to happen, but they have been waiting for the systems to develop ... to lower in prices and essentially to know they had to do it."

Under the pilot program, Medicare "will pay them more on their Medicare billings" and, in the second year, "will pay them more if they will report the quality measures that we all agreed will be standard quality measures," Leavitt said. CMS will select 12 communities to participate in the pilot program, and 100 small- to medium-sized medical practices will participate in each of the communities, according to Leavitt. CMS will select four communities in the pilot program this year and will select the other eight next year, he said.

Leavitt added that the pilot program will result in a total of about $150 million in extra Medicare reimbursements for medical practices that participate. He said, "You have 12 sites divided by $150 million. You can see we are talking serious money here," adding, "It's a lot of money, but it's not enough to do it for everybody." Leavitt said private insurers are being urged to adopt similar incentives (Smith, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/8).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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