Saturday, July 29, 2006

House approves health data technology bill; Bill fail to strengthen patient privacy

House approves health data technology bill
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation aimed at accelerating the use of computerized health records by removing legal barriers and moving toward national standards was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

The House bill, passed by a 270-148 vote, would provide $40 million in funding over five years, much less than a Senate measure that would spend $150 million to help physicians buy new technology.

Senate and House negotiators must work out a compromise version of the legislation, but have relatively few work days left before the November election.

President George W. Bush has called for all Americans to have electronic medical records by 2014 as a way to improve efficiency and avoid medical mistakes. But the transition can be costly for doctors and hospitals.

Under the House version, hospitals and group medical practices could give doctors computers and software without running afoul of anti-kickback laws. It also requires U.S. health officials to develop a national plan to coordinate technology standards so records can be shared.

House Democrats criticized the bill for failing to strengthen patient privacy, and for not setting standards for companies to develop products that can work together.

"This bill does little other than bestow gifts on the insurance companies and big businesses," said California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps.

Republicans said the legislation paves the way for the health-care sector to take action.

"Realistically, the government's not going to pay for this. The system's going to do it ... because it creates system efficiencies that pays the system back," said Connecticut Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

While several industry groups supported the bill, some consumer activists said they would prefer legislation that gave more grants and loans to promote new health data technology.

The Congressional Budget Office said earlier this month that the House bill would not significantly affect either the rate at which the use of health technology will grow or how well that technology will be designed and implemented.