March 15, 2007

Whitehouse Health IT Amendment Passes in Budget Committee with Bipartisan Support

Reserve Fund Supports Information Technology, Best Practices in Health Care

Washington, D.C. – The Senate Budget Committee today unanimously adopted a bipartisan measure proposed by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) supporting the adoption of modern health information technology and accepted best practices in clinical settings. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.) cosponsored the measure, which was reported to the full Senate this afternoon as part of the Senate budget resolution.

“America has the best doctors, nurses, and technology in the world, but too often, the poorest health outcomes due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and avoidable medical errors,” said Whitehouse. “We need to invest more in health IT, and this is a good first step.” As Attorney General of Rhode Island, Whitehouse founded the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a collaborative effort between health care providers, insurers, and government to lower costs and find innovative solutions to our health care crisis.

A 2001 Institute of Medicine report found that health “information technology can contribute to a reduction in avoidable medical errors by standardizing and automating certain decisions, and by aiding in the identification of possible errors, such as potential adverse drug interactions, before they occur.” Many public health technology applications “are within technical reach at a relatively low cost, but are not widely used because of a lack of targeted public-sector funding.”

According to a study published in Health Affairs, only 15-20% of physician offices, and 20-25% of hospitals, had electronic medical record systems as of 2005. By even the most conservative estimate, effective electronic medical record implementation and networking could eventually save more than $81 billion annually, $23 billion of which would accrue annually to the Medicare program.

The Whitehouse-Stabenow amendment creates a reserve fund to accommodate legislation that provides incentives or other support for adoption of modern information technology to improve quality and protect privacy in health care, or for payments that are based on adherence to accepted clinical protocols identified as best practices.

Reserve funds allow the chairman of the Budget Committee to adjust the budget resolution when certain legislation is passed, to accommodate revenue and spending levels included in the bill. The Whitehouse-Stabenow measure is deficit-neutral, specifying that health IT or best-practices legislation could not increase the deficit over a five-year period.


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