House Passes Health IT Bill

August 1, 2006

5 Min Read
House Passes Health IT Bill

In late July, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 270–148 to pass the Health Information Technology (IT) Promotion Act of 2006 (HR 4157). After months of wrangling, the final approval came much sooner than expected—just days after the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce reconciled their competing bills. The Senate passed a similar bill ( S 1418) last November.

Commending the passage of the bill, H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS; Chicago), called on the House and Senate “to come together and conference HR 4157 and S 1418 before the adjournment of the 109th Congress in an effort to pave the way for President Bush to sign healthcare IT legislation this year.”

Siemens Medical Solutions (Malvern, PA), a supplier of medtech equipment and healthcare IT systems, described passage of the bill as “another key step in advancing the creation of a nationwide, interoperable health information infrastructure.” Commenting on the legislation, Janet Dillione, president of Siemens' healthcare IT division, said, “Advancing healthcare information technology adoption is critical to modernizing healthcare and moving from managing chronic illness to managing wellness and preventing disease.”

Although the health IT bill has been generally well received, some organizations and advocacy groups say it does not go far enough in advancing the adoption of healthcare IT. Others have expressed concerns about the minimal security provisions in the bill. Deborah Peel, MD, chairman of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation (Austin, TX), said that “Without basic privacy protections built into the legislation up front, Congress will create an electronic superhighway system for others to misuse, data mine, and steal the nation's medical records.” Peel added that she was puzzled as to why the House did not include language in the bill that would guarantee patient privacy.

Previous versions of HR 4157 would have preempted some state privacy laws, but the current iteration of the bill simply requires compliance with the provisions of the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act and directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS; Washington, DC) to develop “model policies” for privacy and security.

Paul Tang, MD, chairman of the American Medical Informatics Association (Bethesda, MD), noted some concerns regarding the bill, but said it was “an important step toward realizing the president's goal of having most Americans' health information stored in electronic health record systems.”

Linda Kloss, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association (Chicago), also acknowledged shortcomings, but praised the overall bill. “This bill provides valuable support for some of the initial building blocks of the national health information network,” she said. “While no single piece of legislation can possibly address all of the issues related to adoption of health information technology, this is a strong step in the right direction.”

The Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006 includes the following key provisions.

• Codifies the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology within HHS. The office was established by executive order in April 2004.

• Calls for adoption of the International Classification of Diseases version 10 by October 1, 2010.

• Establishes safe harbors within the healthcare antikickback and self-referral laws, allowing hospitals to provide certain inducements to physicians to embrace health IT, including devices and training, without fear of criminal penalties.

• Enables the government to specify methods and procedures for adopting nationwide standards for the electronic exchange of health data.

• Directs the secretary of HHS to propose nationwide regulations regarding the safeguarding of health information privacy and security.

• Provides $40 million for exploring optimal methods and procedures for facilitating the adoption of a national health IT system.

Conferees from the House and Senate must meet to draft a final bill, which will be submitted to the president, who has pledged his support. Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R–TN) called the legislation a high priority and expects approval soon after Congress returns from the August recess. “ I am pleased the House approved its own version of an electronic medical records bill, and I believe we will be able to send President Bush a final version of the legislation by the end of the year,” Frist said.

© 2006 Canon Communications LLC

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