05.21.07

Whitehouse's First Senate Bills Focus on Health Reform

Rhode Island Experience Shapes Legislation Supporting Health IT, Quality Care

Cranston, R.I. - U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today unveiled his first legislation since taking office in January: a trio of bills grounded in his experience working with health care in Rhode Island and aimed at expanding the use of health information technology and improving the quality of care.

"Over many years, Rhode Islanders have told me they're frustrated at a health care system that costs too much but leaves most people without the care they need," Whitehouse said. "If we can make the system work better for everyone, we can cut costs, save lives, and improve the quality of the health care we receive - a critical step toward ensuring that all Americans have health care they can afford."

America's health care system, Whitehouse said, is beset with several interrelated problems: it emphasizes treatment of illness rather than prevention; better or more efficient procedures are often not standardized nor in widespread use; the system's reliance on paper rather than electronic records slows the exchange of information and frequently contributes to avoidable medical errors; and the ways in which providers are compensated for the care they deliver make all those problems significantly worse.

Whitehouse's legislation takes steps to address those problems through three innovative, experience-based proposals:

Supporting Health Quality Reform. As Rhode Island's Attorney General, Whitehouse founded the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a collaborative effort between health care providers, insurers, and government that has spearheaded initiatives to expand the use of electronic health records and promote quality-based reforms. Today, many state and local organizations like the Quality Institute are serving as the "R&D" arm of our health care industry, gathering data and instituting reforms that are innovative models for improving the system nation-wide. The Quality Reform Expansion and Savings Act of 2007 will help advance these efforts, creating two-year federal grants for local organizations pursuing health quality reform in areas ranging from electronic record-keeping, to early prevention and detection of illness, to efforts to expand health care coverage.

Building a National Health IT System. Experts say the widespread adoption of health information technology could reduce dangerous, unnecessary medical errors; cut health care costs; and significantly improve the quality of care Americans receive. But despite the enormous savings potential of health IT, no national infrastructure now exists, and most local health care providers can't afford to build a system from scratch. The National Health Information Technology and Privacy Advancement Act of 2007 will establish a private, non-profit corporation tasked with developing a national, interoperable, secure health information technology system to help bring the extraordinary power of health IT to everyone involved in the health care system.

Linking Health Care Costs to Health Care Quality. Today, the system by which health care providers are reimbursed for treating illness rewards them for delivering more care to sicker patients, not preventative care to keep patients healthy. The Improved Medical Decision Incentive Act of 2007 will re-focus our health care reimbursement system on quality by allowing states to establish "best practice" guidelines for treating illnesses or conditions. Based on the advice and experience of medical experts in that field, these best practices will reflect treatments or procedures that result in healthier patients and reduced costs to the system. This bill also will provide for safeguards ensuring that health care services following recognized best practices are compensated accordingly.

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