Legislation: Stark launches competing health IT bill

September 26, 2008

Health-care IT seems to be the new issue du jour for Congress. On Sept. 15, Rep. Pete Stark (D-California), the namesake of the anti-kickback medical referral law, unveiled a bill to establish a nationwide health-care IT infrastructure, but the measure faces competition from two other similar bills already under consideration.

Health-care IT seems to be the new issue du jour for Congress. On Sept. 15, Rep. Pete Stark (D-California), the namesake of the anti-kickback medical referral law, unveiled a bill to establish a nationwide health-care IT infrastructure, but the measure faces competition from two other similar bills already under consideration.

Stark, who is chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ influential Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, released his Health-e Information Technology Act of 2008 on the heels of the Protecting Records, Optimizing Treatment, and Easing Communication through Healthcare Technology Act of 2008, which was introduced in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June and approved by its Health Subcommittee in July. That bill, introduced by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Michigan), was referred to the Ways and Means committee for further consideration, while Stark’s bill was referred to a technology subcommittee.

Both bills encourage physicians to adopt electronic health record (EHR) systems, but Stark’s bill offers incentive payments of as much as $40,000 per physician over five years, while Dingell’s bill proposes matching grants of $1 for each $3 of federal funds. Stark’s legislation warns of Medicare payment reductions for health-care providers who don’t use a qualified EHR system by 2016, according to the bill’s most recent draft.

Like Dingell’s bill, Stark’s legislation charges the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology within the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a nationwide IT infrastructure, But unlike Dingell’s bill, the coordinator’s office is also responsible for designing an open-source EHR system to be made available nine months after HHS approves nationwide standards for EHR interoperability, privacy/security, and clinical adaptability, according to the summary of the legislation from the Ways and Means Committee. The deadline for first generation of those standards, which will be recommended from a committee within the coordinator’s office, is September 2011.

Dingell’s bill proposes $1.1 billion in spending through 2013 and would cost another $810 million to implement, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. Cost estimates for Stark’s bill were not available as of press time.

Meanwhile, a bill in the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education and Labor Committee, The Wired for Health Care Quality Act, was introduced in June last year, and includes similar provisions to the House bills, such as establishing a stronger role for the national coordinator and awarding funds to physicians for EHR adoption. The Senate’s bill, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), however, has not seen any movement for almost a year, according to the Library of Congress’ website.