Lawmakers urge adoption of electronic medical records

Language from a number of proposals has been incorporated into an expansive draft bill being worked on by the House Energy and Commerce chairman and others.

Lawmakers used a National Health IT Week event Tuesday to call for wide-scale adoption of electronic medical records, although they acknowledged the road to fulfilling that agenda might be long and complicated.

Comment on this article in The Forum."It's ready for us to take up [because] lives are in the balance," Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said Tuesday at the event.

Kennedy, who co-chairs the 21st Century Health Care Caucus, has introduced legislation to create a public-private partnership to promote transportable, consumer-controlled health records.

Language from a number of proposals, but not Kennedy's, has been incorporated into an expansive draft bill being worked on by House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, ranking member Joe Barton and others.

Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., held a hearing on the topic last week where members heard from representatives of the medical and high-tech communities, as well as patient advocates.

Dingell's draft is similar to legislation by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy and ranking member Michael Enzi. That bill passed their committee in the fall, but Kennedy is recovering from brain surgery and it is unclear how long he will be away and how his absence will affect the bill's momentum.

Patrick Kennedy lauded Energy and Commerce's attention to the issue and said sweeping changes are needed in the healthcare sector but was realistic in what he believes can happen in the 110th Congress and beyond. "This is not a one-shot deal. It's going to take renewed efforts to change health IT year-in and year-out," he said.

According to a Kennedy aide, part of his plan is to introduce follow-up legislation to a 2005 bill he sponsored with healthcare caucus co-chair Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., which would coordinate the national effort to promote health IT.

The pair introduced a resolution last week that recognized the value of health IT, supported the designation of a National Health IT Week and encouraged the White House to do the same. The resolution has more than 50 co-sponsors. Still, Congress is "not moving as quickly as I'd wish" to pass meaningful health IT legislation, Murphy said at the briefing.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., said a Medicare bill by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus that links adoption of electronic prescribing to physician reimbursement could be a good way to initiate broader health IT reforms. The bill must be signed by President Bush before July 1 to stop a scheduled Medicare physician payment cut.

Schwartz and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have also sponsored stand-alone e-prescription bills they believe would increase efficiency while decreasing medical errors and costs to providers and patients.

"It's time to move these bills -- let's get this done and let's do it before 2014," Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., told colleagues. During the 2004 State of the Union, Bush said he wanted to eliminate paper medical records within a decade.

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