Lawmakers are drafting legislation to finance regional health information networks that would allow data to be transferred confidentially and securely among providers. The bill, which will be introduced in the House by Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Timothy Murphy (R-Pa.), will require the development of financing mechanisms to encourage health IT implementation by providers and will reward physicians for participating in the networks with extra Medicare reimbursement. Twenty regional health information organizations would receive three-year grants to build the IT networks and write plans to use them, with advice from providers, patients, payers and employers. Medicaid will match state contributions. The proposal also includes 10-year loans to help regional organizations defray upfront costs and some exceptions to antikickback laws. A cost for the program has not been estimated and a companion bill is not yet planned for the Senate.
The bar is open
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) will ask the Food and Drug Administration to consider requiring bar codes on medical devices. The FDA last year mandated that bar codes be placed on hospital-administered drugs, biologicals and blood products but not on medical devices. According to a letter being drafted to the FDA by the congressman, requiring bar codes on medical devices would be "a common-sense next step in our shared goal of improving quality, cost effectiveness and supply-chain efficiency." Sessions is gathering signatures for the letter, his office says.
Warning: Boondoggle ahead
The Department of Veterans Affairs' $3.5 billion plan to modernize computer operations at its hospitals will fail without substantial changes, according to an evaluation by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, the St. Petersburg Times reported. The researchers, working for the VA, say the project is "not viable" and is an "unacceptably high risk." They cite management issues and an inadequate evaluation of risks and alternatives among other problems, according to the Times. The VA abandoned a smaller project last year after determining it would not work, at a cost to taxpayers of $265 million.
Speaking the same language
The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, which is developing a set of standards and procedures by which electronic healthcare information technology can be measured and certified, released its first round of proposals last month. Three work groups are developing methods for assessing IT systems on their functionality, interoperability, security and reliability. A fourth group is working on guidelines for how the certification process will operate. The initial comment period will run through May 18. Comments will be incorporated into a second round of releases and again opened for public comment later this year, according to a commission statement.
Where's my privacy ROI?
A majority of providers and insurers have yet to realize an adequate return on investment from implementing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Jim Wicker, chairman of the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange, told an HHS subcommittee on electronic standards and security in April. Wicker says there had been some payoffs: For example, payers report increased volume of electronic claims transactions, fewer claims denials and overall increases in efficiency. But many challenges remain, including variations in the codes used, he says. Many providers believe HIPAA's benefits were overestimated early on, while the initial investment required was underestimated, Wicker says. Joseph Smith, vice president at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, says providers have not yet made full use of electronic transactions. The Arkansas Blues plan has not regained its investment in HIPAA's administrative simplification requirements after 17 months, but the insurer remains supportive of industrywide compliance, Smith says.
Kill and tell
The Colorado Health and Hospital Association, in partnership with several other organizations in the state, began posting hospital-specific, risk-adjusted mortality rates for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia online at hospitalquality.org. The CHA Performance and Quality Group says in a news release that the project is the first release of hospital-specific mortality data in the U.S. in which hospitals voluntarily participated in the process and agreed to release the data. The Colorado group says it intends to post hospital-specific mortality rates for eight additional conditions-heart bypass, hip fracture, stroke and skull surgery, among others-and volume measures later in spring.
Comparing hospital performance
The CMS launched a new Web site, more than two years in the making, that lists data comparing how well 4,200 U.S. hospitals treat patients suffering from heart attacks, heart failure or pneumonia. Nearly every U.S. hospital provided data to Hospital Compare on their performance on 17 quality measures for the three conditions. The Hospital Quality Alliance, a public-private partnership of various organizations that planned the Web site, intends to continue collecting and disseminating quality data, including adding new quality measures related to patient satisfaction and hospital-acquired infections to the site by next year, officials say.