A comprehensive health technology bill that was expected to pass the Senate this week has instead gone back to federal lawmakers for more tinkering, according to congressional sources and advocacy groups.
The Wired for Health Care Quality Act, sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and backed by a trio of other influential lawmakers, failed in two attempts to get "hotlined" this past week. "Hotlining" a bill is a congressional maneuver that allows for quick passage and usually is an indication that it has the support of the entire Senate.
A Kennedy spokeswoman would only say that negotiations over the bill are continuing. She declined, however, to describe the nature of those negotiations.
But Deborah Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, assailed the legislation, saying that it fails to give vital protections to the one group that needs it the mosteveryday Americans. Peel denounced the push for quick passage as "bully tactics" and admonished Kennedy and other senators for trying to do so.
"The only possible thing we'd support is that the bill (ensures) that every American has the right to health information privacy," Peel said. "And the definition of that is that Americans control access to their personal health information. That's the minimal acceptable language for patient privacy rights."
In recent weeks, dozens of healthcare and consumer groups, including the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and Coalition for Patient Privacy, have sent letters to Congress opposing the bill.
Still, Peel said she isn't optimistic any airtight privacy provisions would be forthcoming. An amendment to the bill by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which would more narrowly define consumer control over electronic health records, is opposed by Kennedy and others, she said.
"We can't figure out why the senators aren't on the side of the American people," Peel said.
The Congressional Budget Office reports that the bill would cost $317 million over five years.
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