Health policy Tuesday

ELECTRONIC HEALTH

Electronic health records are front and center on Capitol Hill today as lawmakers look into implementation of the HITECH Act, part of last year's recovery act. The law calls for computer and software investments at hospitals and doctor's offices and requires them to adopt electronic health records, making it easier to keep track of patients' medical histories.

David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to focus his testimony before the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee on privacy concerns and the regulations released a couple of weeks ago. The new "meaningful use" regulations spell out the requirements providers must meet to qualify for incentives — and avoid cuts in Medicare payments after 2015.

The hearing comes as new studies suggest most physicians' offices don't offer helpful online tools — and in any case patients aren't yet ready to use them. Research and consulting firm Forrester Research says less than a quarter of patients use e-mail with their doctor when it's available, and only 16 percent have taken advantage of online forms for medical visits; those most likely to do so are "young, well-off, wired, and proactive about their health."

"When Forrester asked consumers about medical Web capabilities such as a site with basic practice information, patient data reporting, or online appointment scheduling, only 30% said their primary doctor's office offers these solutions," writes analyst Elizabeth Boehm. "Worse, only a small fraction of consumers whose doctor does offer them has taken advantage of the online capabilities."

GENERICS PUSH

The Generic Pharmaceutical Association released a new study Monday arguing that generic drugs saved the U.S. healthcare system $139.6 billion in 2009 — and $824 billion over the past decade.

Ironically, the study further bolsters the argument for outlawing branded drugmakers' ability to pay generic companies for delaying the sale of generics. So-called "Pay for Delay" legislation cleared the House but was stripped from the Senate's war supplemental passed last week, but it has bipartisan and White House support.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates this would save the federal government more than $2.4 billion over 10 years in lower drug costs for Medicare, Medicaid, military and veterans’ health programs; a 2009 study found that such a ban would save American consumers $35 billion over 10 years.

CALENDAR

Senate appropriators will mark up the FY 2011 spending bill for Labor and Health and Human Services this afternoon.

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