Health IT bill takes a step forward

Democrats opposed to weak protections for patient privacy.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

The health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved a serious piece health IT legislation - the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2006, Government Health IT reports. The legislation is the companion of a bill passed by the Senate last year. The legislation now goes to the full Ways and Means Committee and then to the full House.

The bill codifies in law the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. Under the House bill, the national coordinator for health would be appointed by the president and would be the principal adviser to the health secretary on health IT issues. The national coordinator would also be the focal point for development of health IT policies and programs throughout the federal government, and the liaison between government and the private sector.

The bill also includes protections against anti-kickback and physician self-referral laws, also called Stark laws. These laws have been seen as major barriers to hospitals and group practices providing physicians with hardware, software or related services to promote the use of electronic health records.

House Democrats have issues with the current bill because it doesn't go far enough in protecting patients' privacy rights. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), himself a recent user of health services, said he would introduce legislation to strengthen health IT privacy as early as this month, though it’s likely it will not occur because Congress is in recess next week for the Memorial Day holiday.

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