New Senate health reform bill promotes healthcare IT

By Diana Manos
08:01 PM

The Senate Finance Committee released a health reform package Tuesday that includes measures to advance healthcare IT.

The last of five plans offered by Congressional committees and the most controversial, "America's Healthy Future Act," proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), now faces a committee vote. If approved, it would then need to be combined with the other bills before going before Congress for a full vote.

Among the Baucus bill provisions are healthcare IT measures that would encourage value-based purchasing for physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies participating in Medicare. The bill would encourage doctors to coordinate care and reduce duplicate tests. It would also create incentives for healthcare providers to improve quality of care through healthcare IT and combat Medicare fraud and abuse.

President Barack Obama noted his support for healthcare IT during a speech on Sept. 9 before a joint session of Congress as he lobbied for health reform.

Thomas M. Leary, senior director of federal affairs at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Systems Society, said Obama's support "reinforces the necessity for the adoption and meaningful use of healthcare IT solutions outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment and Act and emphasizes the essential role interoperable tools will have in ensuring the quality, access and cost effectiveness improvements the president is seeking."

At a Sept. 16 HIPAA Conference in Washington, D.C., David Blumenthal, MD, the National Coordinator for Health IT, called the $20 billion healthcare IT provisions passed in ARRA "visionary," saying they lay a foundation for healthcare reform. "This vision will progress and will get implemented, if I have anything to do with it," he said, "regardless of what happens in Congress."

In related news, more than 150 stakeholders will rally Sept. 21-25 in Washington, D.C., as part of National Health IT Week to raise awareness about the value of healthcare IT.

"Imagine what we could achieve for our nation's healthcare system by implementing even a few health information technology initiatives," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), co-chairman of the 21st Century Health Care Caucus and moderator of a press conference to be held Sept. 22.