Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) jointly introduced a bill to provide $625 million over five years for matching "incentive grants" to promote regional and local information technol-ogy projects designed to improve healthcare quality and efficiency.
The bipartisan legislation would provide hospitals and other healthcare organizations with a safe harbor from Stark and antikickback laws to extend IT systems to other individuals or companies, such as doctors or physician groups. Also in the bill is a measure for Congress to legislatively reaffirm the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technol-ogy, created within HHS last year by President Bush through executive order. And it would provide for the study of conflicting state privacy laws and their impact on a national IT system.
Introduced June 16 as the Frist-Clinton Health Technology to Enhance Quality Act, the bill would give more authority to the HHS secretary, handing most contracting and standards setting to current HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and working through Coordinator David Brailer. It also would require periodic reports to Congress on privacy and security changes.
This bill followed another that together increase proposed federal spending levels for healthcare IT. On June 13, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Olympia Snowe
(R-Maine) announced a bill calling for a federal investment of $4 billion over five years in healthcare IT. The money for that bill would come from Medicare trust funds.
The proposed legislation from Frist and Clinton embraces many of the aims laid out June 6 by Leavitt (June 13, p. 6). But Leavitt called for the creation of a 17-member ad-visory panel, dubbed the American Health Information Community, which he would chair. The group would advise both the government and the private sector on IT issues and would yield its duties to a private-sector organization in five years.
Under the Frist-Clinton legislation, the national coordinator would chair a permanent electronic health-information standards-development working group, whose members would include representatives of federal departments and agencies, as well as the private sector. The working group would recommend healthcare IT standards for an electronic healthcare-data exchange to the HHS secretary, who would be authorized to adopt them for the entire federal government, though adoption would be voluntary for private-sector companies.
Also under the proposed law, the secretary also would oversee development of criteria to certify IT software and systems for compliance with the new standards.