Congress passes stimulus package with $19B for healthcare IT

By Healthcare IT News
10:39 AM

Congress passed the final version of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill Feb. 13, with $19 billion slated for healthcare IT. President Obama is slated to sign it today in Denver.

Richard UmbdenstockThe American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), is also loaded with more than $100 billion for other healthcare measures including funding to help beef up state Medicaid coffers and subsidies to help unemployed workers afford healthcare coverage through COBRA.

American Hospital Association President and CEO Richard Umbdenstock said the bill "is a step in the right direction," and AHA looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to further refine some of the provisions.

Umbdenstock said provisions in the bill contain key items that are important to the patients and communities served by the nation's hospitals, ranging from ensuring the availability of healthcare coverage for the unemployed and providing increased support for the Medicaid program to making a down-payment on investments to improve the quality and efficiency of care through health information technology; investing in the training of more healthcare professionals, and blocking several Medicare and Medicaid regulations proposed by the previous Administration that would have created barriers to serving our most vulnerable patient populations.

Carl Buising, MD, executive director of healthcare, U.S. Public Sector Health at Microsoft said the bill, with its emphasis on key healthcare IT priorities will improve information-sharing and availability, which will in turn drive quality, efficiency, and patient-centric services for the 21st Century.

"With substantial funding for adoption and expansion of health IT at the provider, facility, regional, and national levels, we can make real progress," Buising said. "It will be important in the execution to include sufficient flexibility in the decisions and deployments undertaken such that today's various data and information formats can all be managed, as well as the forthcoming standards to be developed."

"During the execution phase, we must also maintain a continued emphasis on technical progress that connects the legacy and siloed systems of today and advances information sharing, rather than simply creating more siloes," he said. "This is an unusual and exciting opportunity to advance healthcare and healthcare IT in the nation.  The stimulus provides the opportunity to fundamentally alter the way we capture, store, use, and share information in the healthcare process, which will then enable improvements in efficiency, quality, and condition management to a degree simply not possible today."

"The economic stimulus package represents a significant step forward for the advancement of healthcare in the United States," said Harry Greenspun, chief medical officer for Perot Systems. "These funds should significantly advance patient safety and care while creating good paying jobs in the health IT sector, especially if we can achieve the goal of developing an electronic health record of every American."

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) said the bill is an important first step. "Our industry is committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure broad adoption of health information technology so that patients and physicians have access to full and complete electronic medical records that include basic safety and savings tools like e-prescribing," PCMA officials said in a statement. "We are encouraged that the legislation specifically includes e-prescribing as an integral component of a fully-functional HIT system."
In addition to the healthcare IT provisions in the economic stimulus bill, PCMA said it supports the inclusion of comparative effectiveness research in the law, which will improve clinical decision-making, enhance quality of care, and discourage wasteful spending.