Legislation

July 11, 2008

A House subcommittee approved a health information technology bill on June 25 that advocates an EHR for all American citizens by 2014. The bill would also establish a national coordinator in the Department of Health and Human Services, charged with marshalling health information technology modernization efforts.

A House subcommittee approved a health information technology bill on June 25 that advocates an EHR for all American citizens by 2014. The bill would also establish a national coordinator in the Department of Health and Human Services, charged with marshalling health information technology modernization efforts.

The early draft of the bill, “Protecting Records, Optimizing Treatment, And Easing Communication Through Healthcare Technology Act Of 2008” (“PRO[TECH]T” for short) was introduced May 22 by John Dingell (D-MI) in the Health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Prior to the July 4 recess, the bill was sent up to the full committee.

The legislation, which lawmakers have earmarked for at least $671 million, is aimed to reduce healthcare costs and medical errors, and increase the quality and efficiency of the healthcare system, Dingell said.

“Your grocery store automatically knows what brand of chips you bought last year, but your cardiologist doesn’t automatically know what prescriptions your family doctor prescribed for you yesterday,” Dingell said in a press release. “That’s problematic for healthcare quality and costs.”

The bill promotes the nationwide adoption of a healthcare information technology infrastructure and establishes incentives for doctors, hospitals, insurers, and the government to exchange health information electronically across the country. It also outlines steps to protect security and privacy of patients’ health information, such as requiring notification when personal health information is breached.

Lawmakers budgeted $66 million for fiscal year 2009 to pay for implementation, $575 million through fiscal 2013 to pay for grants and loans to help providers purchase technology, and $30 million through fiscal 2011 for training of healthcare professionals.

Jim King, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, applauds the bill’s efforts to assist doctors in upgrading technology, but says the loans offered -- which require practices to invest $1 for every $3 loaned – will overburden smaller practices.

“Jumping through all the hoops to get the grants is going to be extremely difficult,” says King. “I think many of our members won’t do it because of that.”

King supports the 2014 goal for EHR adoption, revealing that 37 percent of his members already use them and another 13 percent will have them by the end of the year.

“We’ve found that ones who aren’t considering [EHR adoption] are those small practices,” he says. “We applaud Congressman Dingell’s bill in that he’s trying to set up grants and loans to move in that direction, but they’ve got to make sure that it’s not so burdensome they can’t get there.”