Sunday, June 29, 2008

Capitol Hill News

As reported by the Center for Telehealth & E-Health Law, the Senate and House spending bills boost telehealth funding. Both the Senate and House appropriations committees released FY 2009 spending bills that will increase funding for the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth to $7,100,000 from a FY 2008 level of $6,700,000, while the Senate bill would increase OAT funding to a full $8,000,000.

In other actions, the “PRO(TECH) T Act of 2008 introduced on June 24, 2008 by John D. Dingel (D-MI), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Joe L. Barton of Texas was forwarded to the full Committee by voice vote. The Act encourages the adoption of HIT and protects the privacy and security of health information. The bill would help by authorizing funds over five years for grants and loans so that health providers would be able to buy hardware and software for health IT systems.

The Act provides for the adoption of standards to allow providers to exchange health information on their patients. Advisory panels would be established to advise on technical standards and once the advisory committee decides on these standards, then the government would be required to adopt the technology.

In addition, the legislation makes ONCHIT permanent and encourages the use of health information technology for each patient by 2014. It would further protect the security and privacy of an individual’s health information by requiring notification when a patient’s personal health information is breached.

On June 23, 2008, Representative Charles W. Boustany, Jr, MD, (R-LA) introduced the “Patient Controlled HealthIT Act (HR 6345) to establish a demonstration project to provide financial incentives to encourage the adoption of interactive PHRs and to encourage HIE networks to link the clinical data to the PHRs. Representative Boustany a former cardiothoracic surgeon introduced the bill to spur investment in health IT. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The “Promoting Health Information Technology Act of 2008” (HR 6179) introduced on June 4th by Representatives Dave Camp from Michigan and Sam Johnson from Texas seeks to utilize public private partnerships and tax incentives to help the adoption of HIT.

A practice of five physicians could easily spend upwards of $200,000 to implement an electronic health record. To speed adoption, the PHIT Act would allow physicians who purchase HIT to deduct a larger portion of this business expense more quickly. The Act would also eliminate the arbitrary 2013 sunset HHS has placed on hospitals providing physicians with software for electronic health records.

The Act makes recommendation for HIT standards, and requires the HHS Secretary to develop a strategic plan for implementing technology and privacy standards among all federal entities involved in the development of HIT. The legislation would also establish an expedited process to approve modifications for existing standards.

The legislation would strengthen telehealth in several ways. Section 303 in the legislation would help to provide telehealth services across state lines, calls for a study on expanding home health and related telehealth services, examine how to pay for home health telehealth services, and look at ways to expand the list of sites to include county or public mental health clinics.

The legislation requests a study done by the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth to report on the use of store and forward technology for telehealth. This study needs to include an assessment of the feasibility and the costs for expanding the use of these technologies.