The Senate Finance Committee approved by a 14-9 vote a legislative package that includes $180 billion in investments in health information technology and a host of other domestic programs as part of a massive bill meant to lift the sagging economy.
The spending blueprint would allot more than $20 billion to help doctors and hospitals go paperless, giving them incentive payments starting in 2011 to do so. It would also allow those providers who see a high number of Medicaid patients to do the same. The catch, however, is that those who dont adopt the new technologyor dont use it in a meaningful way to improve qualitywill see a reduction in payments.
The package, which met with opposition from many Republican members, cleared after the committee met through the evening hours Tuesday to negotiate the final language.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the committee, said that while the use of health IT is laudable, its an outlier in the current stimulus package. Why are we doing it in a stimulus package? he asked. Doesnt it really belong in health reform?
But Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), called it a judgment call, hinting that broad health reform could be years in the making. We should start it now, he said. In the long haul, I think intuitively we all know it is going to be extremely beneficial.
An amendment that was accepted without a vote effectively opens the door for an open-source option for electronic health records, which could benefit small or rural providers because it would presumably be less expensive.
Meantime, the Senate Appropriations Committee, which shares jurisdiction of the bill, included language that would allow long-term-care facilities to tap into the incentive payments.
Overall, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the health IT provisions included in both the Senate and House versions of the bill would lead to a 90% adoption rate by the physician community by 2019 and 70% by hospitals. If left unchanged, those percentages would be only 65% for doctors and 45% for hospitals. The House is expected to pass its version of the bill today, which includes many of the same health IT provisions that the Senate bill does.