Stimulus package shaping up optimistically for health IT
Details on the economic stimulus package are unfolding optimistically for healthcare IT, according to some of the first draft language available, obtained from those close to the process.
A 250-page discussion draft by the House Appropriations Committee includes $2 billion dollars for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, while noting Congress plans to spend $20 billion for healthcare IT as part of the overall economic stimulus package.
Language in the House Appropriations draft, for the first time, would also ensure the future of products certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information, by requiring the appropriated funds only to be spent on CCHIT-certified products.
Justin Barnes, chairman of the Electronic Health Records Association, said he is optimistic over these latest developments. Tying the funding to certified products is a "tremendous win" for the industry, should this aspect of the draft become law, he said.
The House Appropriations Committee only covers items which fall under its jurisdiction, and the draft has yet to be combined with language from the House Ways and Means Committee, a process that should take place next week. Other parts of the bill may come from House Energy & Commerce, the Appropriations draft said.
The House version of the stimulus package will have to be reconciled with a Senate version. Barnes said he feels confident the Senate will agree with $20 billion for healthcare IT.
Lawmakers have vowed to have the stimulus bill passed before mid-February. The transition team appointed by President-elect Barack Obama is facilitating work on the bill.
According to a release Thursday from House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), healthcare IT funding included in the stimulus package will be used to establish standards, payment incentives and privacy protections to encourage the widespread adoption of healthcare IT.
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, is expected to add language Friday that will address healthcare IT privacy and other factors. Barnes said that language could provoke protest from the industry if it favors one product over others.
Overall, the $20 billion, which will be included in multiple pieces of legislation, is intended to "cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients and help reduce healthcare costs by billions of dollars each year by introducing cost-saving," the Appropriations draft said.
Photo by transplanted mountaineer and obtained under Creative Commons license.