Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Investing in Healthcare

Actions on Capitol Hill are supporting healthcare IT investments. The economic stimulus proposal includes $20 billion to support healthcare technology and improve quality. Representative David Obey (D-WI), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee introduced a bill proposing $2 billion be spent for health IT and be administered through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology within HHS. According to the American Telemedicine Association, the bill specifically mentions telemedicine as one of the priorities for spending.

On the Senate side in a move to specifically help finance healthcare IT, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) both Co-Chairs of the Senate Health Care Quality Improvement and Information Technology Caucus, just introduced the Health Information Technology Act of 2009. The proposed bill would provide $4 billion in grants to make critical investments for healthcare IT. The grant program would help cover the costs related to clinical healthcare informatics systems and services to purchase, lease, or install computer software and hardware and would target providers most in need of assistance.

An important Senate hearing “Investing in Health IT: A Stimulus for a Healthier America” was held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on January 15th. This hearing was the first in a series of hearings that Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) intends to hold on health quality. The witnesses presented ideas on how best to design, implement, and update a nationally interoperable system to protect privacy and improve quality

Mary Grealy, President of the Health Leadership Council (HIC) a witness at the hearing, detailed some of the Council’s ideas. The Council would like to see payment rewards or add-ons for healthcare services using HIT, have a revolving low interest loan fund, tax incentives for physicians and hospitals, reimbursement incentives based on improved patient outcomes, have matching private funds along with public funds via grants from HHS, plus HIC would like to see revisions made to the physician self-referral and anti kickback rules.