President Bush has asked Congress to make health information technologyespecially the use of electronic health recordsa top priority, adding a provision to legislation unveiled last week that requires Medicare to lead by example.
Under the legislative package, EHRs would bridge two other long-discussed initiatives requiring the federal government to make public cost and quality data within Medicare. Beneficiaries, in turn, would be rewarded for choosing the most efficient and qualified providers, which government officials said would help drive down costs.
"Excess cost growth will not be brought under control until there is comprehensive reform changing Medicare's underlying structure," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a Feb. 15 letter sent to House leaders.
The framework of the bill builds largely on the president's August 2006 executive order, which required HHS and several other government agencies to bulk up their health IT efforts, including selecting only those public-sector companies that are equally committed to health IT.
Overall, the legislative package proposes changes to the current medical liability structure and would increase Medicare premiums for some wealthier seniors.
The bill is in response to the so-called "45% trigger," which required the White House to act if for two consecutive years general revenue made up more than 45% of total Medicare spending. That happened last year.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Leavitt said that the billespecially if enacted with the president's proposed budgetwould help put the Medicare program on firmer financial ground.
"Perhaps more importantly, it would begin to address the long-term challenge and lay the foundation for the comprehensive Medicare reforms that are necessary to strengthen and improve the program for future generations," Leavitt said.
While parts of the bill received a frosty reception by congressional Democrats, at least one senate leader favored the health IT portion of it. "There is room here to work together," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a written statement. "Value-based purchasing and health information technology are both smart targets for reforms in Medicare right now."