Bipartisan legislation to create a nearly $1 billion federal grant program to help hospitals and skilled-nursing facilities buy computerized medication order-entry systems was introduced in the Senate last week.
Modern Healthcare first disclosed the terms of the legislation in its May 2 Daily Dose electronic newsletter.
The Medication Errors Reduction Act of 2001, sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.), would not only give hospitals and skilled-nursing facilities money to invest in computer systems that can reduce drug errors but also the funds to train staff how to use the systems.
Hospitals would be eligible for a total of $93 million annually in grant money from 2002 through 2011; skilled-nursing facilities could apply for a total of $4.5 million annually through 2011. The grant program would be set up within HHS and pull its $975 million in total funds over 10 years from the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund.
Hospitals serving a large number of Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible individuals would receive special consideration for the grants.
Most hospital organizations support the bill. They include Premier, VHA, the Federation of American Hospitals and the Catholic Health Association. However, the American Hospital Association does not.
Thomas Nickels, the AHA's senior vice president for federal relations, said his group supports the idea of making money available for providers to help with the cost of buying medical error reduction technology. The group is concerned, however, about the source of the funding.
"Our only concern is the use of funds out of the Part A trust fund," Nickels said. "We want to work with the sponsors to find other sources of funding to accomplish their objective."
The AHA's concerns aside, momentum for such a program has been building during the past few years.
An Institute of Medicine report released this March called on Congress to create a $1 billion "innovation fund" to spur development of healthcare providers' information systems infrastructure. A 1999 IOM report said medication errors account for more than 7,000 deaths annually in the U.S.
After the release of the March 2001 report, national healthcare leaders, including Kenneth Kizer, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the National Quality Forum, and Dennis O'Leary, M.D., president of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, urged legislators to establish a "Hill-Burton II" program to fund information systems development for providers (March 12, p. 4).
From 28% to 95% of adverse drug events could be eliminated if hospitals used computerized medication order-entry systems, according to research released by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality last month (April 16, p. 4). But in 1999, only 13% of hospitals had such systems and just 5% routinely used the technology, according to a survey conducted that year by the private Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
That will change if many employers have their way. The Leapfrog Group, a consortium of Fortune 500 companies providing healthcare benefits to more than 20 million Americans, has made physician use of computerized order-entry systems one of three standards recommended for members to use as guides for the purchase of hospital care.
Last month, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would draw up to $355 million over five years from the Medicare trust fund to help hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities and home health agencies buy information technology to reduce medical errors. Unlike the Medication Errors Reduction Act, however, the Schumer bill has no Republican co-sponsors.