The Senate Tuesday approved a Medicare package that does not include one of the Bush administration's most-favored provisionsthe use of health information technology as a catalyst for higher physician reimbursement.
Earlier this month, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt strongly urged Congress to include provisions that would require doctors to implement standardized health IT components as a condition to receiving full physician reimbursement. Under current law, physicians would have started the new year with about a 10% Medicare pay reduction.
"Such a requirement would accelerate adoption of this technology considerably and help to drive improvements in healthcare quality as well as reductions in medical costs and errors," Leavitt said in a written statement.
But the Senate bill that passed Tuesdayand is expected to clear the House todaywould instead replace that reduction with a 0.5% positive update through June 20, 2008, and doesn't differentiate between physicians who use a clipboard or a computer.
The congressional snub, however, comes at a time when federal lawmakers have several health IT-related bills on the runway. The Wired for Healthcare Quality Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and a host of other influential senators, stalled last month over privacy issues and other concerns. And earlier this month, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would require providers to use electronic prescribing by 2011 or else face a financial penalty.
The Institute of Medicine has estimated that more than 1.5 million preventable adverse drug events occur every year in the U.S., with more than half of them happening to Medicare beneficiaries. Studies have shown that drug errors cost the federal government more than $887 million per year.
Short of congressional action, HHS and the CMS said that they would continue to push for the use of electronic health records, e-prescribing and more as a way to bolster patient safety and boost quality of care.
CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems said that the agency expects to expand a five-year demonstration project, started in October, where participating physicians who use EHRs would be paid a bonus each year. Weems told reporters in Washington today that EHRs are the backbone for many of the CMS quality improvement initiatives.
When asked to comment on the lack of health IT provisions in the Medicare bill, Weems said, "We'll live to fight another day."
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