Senate and industry leaders met on Capitol Hill Wednesday to push a healthcare IT bill that came close to passing by special vote last December but hasn't budged since.
The Wired for Healthcare Quality Act was nearly passed in December by special measures that require no open floor debate. Now the bill is once again in the spotlight, with strong opposition from privacy activists.
The bill, introduced in June by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) would provide a foundation for spurring the adoption of a nationwide healthcare IT system.
"We can save thousands of lives and conserve billions of dollars for health care with this one stroke, and we can do it this year," Kennedy said at a press conference co-hosted by the Business Roundtable. The roundtable is an association of CEOs from leading companies totaling $4.5 trillion in annual revenues, a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market.
Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, Inc. and chairman of the Business Roundtable on Health & Retirement Task Force, said healthcare is "stuck in time" without this bill.
Former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), chairman of Health IT Now!, said timing is critical because passage will become more difficult as the election year progresses.
That's precisely what privacy activists are hoping. According to Deborah Peel, MD, chairman of Patient Privacy Rights, the WIRED Act lacks proper protection. Peel's organization, as part of the Coalition for Patient Privacy and representing 7 million Americans, supports the Technologies For Restoring Users' Security and Trust (TRUST) in Health Information Act, sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
Peel warned against a bill that would strip patient privacy, as she said the WIRED Act does. "These consumer organizations have not told their members there is no need to give up privacy in order to have the benefits of health IT," she said. "Privacy – consumer control over personal health information – is the only way Americans with expensive or stigmatized or genetic diseases will ever trust the electronic health system enough to participate in it."