Aide: Pelosi sees health IT integral to broader overhaul

Senior policy adviser says to expect 'a good Democratic HIT bill' early next year.

A senior policy adviser to House Speaker Pelosi told a conference of health IT stakeholders today to expect "a good Democratic HIT bill" early in 2009, although it remains unknown whether it will be a stand-alone measure or part of a healthcare reform omnibus. A handful of bills introduced this session "didn't really move the ball very far down the court" to health IT overhaul, said aide Wendell Primus, speaking at a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society policy forum.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Legislation aimed at creating a nationwide system of electronic medical records sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell and ranking member Joe Barton passed their panel in July, while House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., introduced a version last month that would use Medicare reimbursement to prod physicians and hospitals to adopt new technologies. A similar Senate bill was introduced more than a year ago by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy and ranking member Michael Enzi but was held up for many months by several senators citing concerns over its cost and privacy protections.

Health IT will take a back seat to leadership's drafting of some sort of economic recovery package and dealing with appropriations before the continuing resolution runs out in March, Primus said. "That will dominate next year," he said. He added there is a chance for legislation during the lame-duck session this fall but discounted its prospects. "It depends upon the White House and their willingness to engage" in talks about a stimulus package that the House passed Sept. 26, which differs from a Senate version and is not to the administration's liking. That bill includes Medicaid funding for states that will face huge deficits for FY10 without extra help, Primus said. With respect to the 2009 healthcare agenda on Capitol Hill, the core issues will be "access, cost-value, and quality" and they should be addressed simultaneously, he said. Pelosi views health IT as a core component of that effort, Primus said.

HHS Deputy Secretary Tevi Troy said the United States is "well on the way" to meeting President Bush's 2014 goal of giving half of all Americans access to interoperable, secure e-health systems. His comments came weeks before the final meeting of a federal advisory body created to address challenges related to the roll-out of a nationwide health IT system. "We want to keep this momentum going," Troy said, noting that the panel's successor, a $13 million public-private sector partnership, will continue "no matter who wins the election."

The fate of a separate health IT standard-setting body is less certain as the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology's contract with HHS is about to expire. Troy told CongressDaily that CCHIT is "a very good model" and should be preserved by the new administration because the panel is critical "to provide the right type of standards for interoperability and privacy protection" and spur future health IT adoption.