Post-inauguration: Healthcare will be standing in line for attention

With the nation's capital preparing for Tuesday's inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, Congress has been busy pushing healthcare to the front of issues the new president will face on his first day in office.

Prompted by the Obama transition team, an economic stimulus package is making its way at an accelerated pace through various committees in Congress.

A recent poll by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows three-quarters of Americans want healthcare reform during Obama's first term, and reducing healthcare costs is their first priority.

In a Dec. 6 online address, Obama cited a plan that included electronic medical records for every doctor's office and hospital in the country as part of an economic recovery plan. His press briefing earlier this month called for electronic health records for every American by 2014.

Last Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft for an $825 billion economic stimulus package - $157.5 billion of which is slated for healthcare programs, including $20 billion for healthcare IT.

The package includes $87 billion in funding for Medicaid, $39 billion for COBRA and $1.1 billion for federal research on comparative effectiveness. Among a host of other healthcare expenditures, it proposes $950 million for repairs and renovations of the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities.

Other House committees are expected to add to this draft, along with language from the Senate, with Congressional leaders expecting to deliver a bill to the president by mid-February.

The Coalition for Patient Privacy urged Congress on Jan. 14 to include privacy safeguards with any funding earmarked for healthcare IT in an economic stimulus package. The bipartisan coalition, representing more than 30 organizations, individual experts and the Microsoft Corporation, said trust is essential to public adoption of healthcare IT.
In the meantime, Congress is working to fund and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The House version of the SCHIP reauthorization would fund the program for 4.5 years and would cover approximately 11 million children.


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