Frist, Clinton push for health information technology legislation

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Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., announced Thursday their plan for legislation that would create a health information technology system in hospitals across the country.

The legislation, the Health Technology to Enhance Quality Act of 2005, will help reduce medical costs, enhance medical efficiency and increase the quality of patient care, they say. They introduced the legislation at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, which already has an information technology system that stores medical records, X-rays, CT and MRI scans.

“It is an issue that unites us, unites both parties, unites Americans,” Frist said.

The pair put aside partisan differences to increase awareness of the need of an electronically based system of medical records that could be shared between hospital rooms nationwide.

According to Frist, “we are in the Stone Age” with respect to operating electronic databases, leaving the United States as “one of the most fragmented systems in the entire world.”

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., joined Frist and Clinton in supporting the bill.

The legislation will provide $125 million a year to establish health information technology and will set standards to evaluate the federal health programs.

“Two hundred billion dollars is often used as an estimate of what we can save by moving toward this type of efficiency,” Clinton said. “I think we can save money and increase quality and that is what this legislation can do.”

Not everyone agrees with the legislation.

“The problem with this is that you are creating the opportunity for identity theft,” said Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Flanagan said that if a breach in a medical database occurred, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as well as employers, could acquire the information to use against the patient. Flanagan also said the legislation fails to hold database operators accountable during a security breach.

“There really isn’t any type of security,” Flanagan said. “One of the things that has to be changed in this legislation is the database companies have to be responsible for breaches in security.”

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