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Senate Passes Health Information Technology Bill

NOVEMBER 18, 2005 -- The Senate early Friday morning passed bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing the use of electronic medical records to prevent errors and increase efficiency in the health care system.

"The Senate has taken a huge step into the information age, finally," said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who has touted the bill as one of his top priorities. "This bill will do as much as anything we have done in this Congress . . . to cut waste and inefficiency out of our health care system."

"The biggest benefit is that it's going to allow the medical data to move with the people as they move," said Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

He called it a "truly monumental piece of legislation."

The bill (S 1418) , which passed by voice vote, would establish an Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Competitive grants would be awarded to hospitals, group practices, and other health care providers that would facilitate distribution of health information electronically. To protect the privacy of the data, the measure would clarify that current health privacy rules apply to any health information stored or transmitted electronically.

Enzi's committee approved the bill by voice vote July 20.

The measure combined elements of two information technology bills: One (S 1262) sponsored by Frist and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; the other (S 1355) sponsored by Enzi, and ranking Democrat Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

President Bush has set a goal for most Americans to have electronic medical records within the next decade. David Brailer, Bush's national coordinator of health information technology, estimates that the technology could reduce health care costs by $140 billion a year.

In the House, Republicans Nancy Johnson of Connecticut and Nathan Deal of Georgia have introduced health care information technology legislation (HR 4157) that would allow HHS to set national medical privacy standards if department deemed them to be necessary and Congress failed to legislate them.

The Senate amended the bill before passing it. Details of the changes could not immediately be determined.

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