Democrats gain the advantage on health IT issues

In the past year, lawmakers have struggled in their efforts to pass health information technology legislation. The Senate and House each passed a bill that they sent to a conference committee by early fall, but the prospects for creating a framework for a National Health Information Network died without ever being presented for a full vote in either chamber.

“We all worked so hard, so we were extremely disappointed that Congress threw away all the progress that had been made over the past two years — when there was real opportunity to pass a good bill,” said David Merritt, a project director at the Center for Health Transformation, a health policy think tank that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich founded. “It’s not like this was Social Security or Medicare reform. This was a bipartisan issue.”

Now it’s the Democrats’ turn, and the new majority party appears to be committed to tackling health care issues. Health IT advocates are optimistic the new leadership will make health IT a priority, build on the progress of the past two years and create a better, more comprehensive legislative framework.

Ticia Gerber, vice president of public policy and international programs at the eHealth Initiative, said the Democrats’ focus on health care could result in a completely different approach to health IT. She said IT is likely to be included as a subset of many larger health care issues Democrats want to tackle, including stem cell research, Medicare and children’s health insurance.

“I can see where a lot of these bigger goals have the potential to have health IT and quality measures,” she said. “A bill for improving access for the uninsured, for example, might include ways that health IT can be used to better serve the underserved more efficiently and effectively.”

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