Many small businesses within the healthcare industry are experiencing the same uncertainty that other small businesses are facing around the nation. They are fearful about the possibility of tax increases, the inconsistent flow of credit, an outrageous national debt, high energy costs, overreaching federal regulations, and the looming ObamaCare mandates.

In my hearing on Thursday, I heard testimony regarding the barriers small medical practices face in the adoption of health information technology (health IT). Health IT is the collective management of electronic information and its exchange among health care providers, patients, insurers and the government. The barriers which many small medical practices are facing include: financial (cost of system, maintenance, updates and training); legal and technology (competing and conflicting incentives and standards; privacy, security and liability; limits of broadband).

One issue in particular that came up in my hearing on Thursday involved e-Prescribing mandates that could affect up to 109,000 clinicians nationwide. In an article published recently by Medscape Medical News, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that "roughly 209,000 clinicians could be subject to the 2012 penalty unless they become successful e-prescribers or qualify for hardship exemptions." The article notes that now, there are "only 2 kinds of exemption: if a clinician practices in a rural area without sufficient high-speed Internet access, or if local pharmacies do not receive electronic prescriptions. Because roughly 100,000 clinicians now participate in the e-prescribing incentive program, CMS estimates that as many as 109,000 clinicians could potentially request a hardship exemption to avoid a penalty in 2012."

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Because of these findings and a number of other burdens being placed on healthcare providers, I introduced a new piece of legislation on Friday known as the Stripping The E-prescribe Arbitrary Mandates (STEAM) Act HR 2128 that will place the decision-making power back in the hands of doctors and patients.

The bill would prevent Medicare fees and penalties to hospitals and doctors that cannot yet e-Prescribe, and removes e-Prescribing as a requirement for fulfilling the "meaningful use" definition of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) program.

In addition, this bill would prevent those doctors and hospitals that are already receiving miniscule Medicare payments from facing further payment reductions due to the cumbersome regulations in the EHR program. Many doctors and hospitals may be penalized because they either cannot afford the e-Prescribe system, don't have the technology to implement e-Prescribe system, or they simply have no need for it and refuse to implement it. 

Patients deserve no less than the best in services and treatment from their physician—and healthcare IT can play a major role in this. Small medical practices should not be left in the dark on transitioning to more modern record-keeping practices. We must help to remove the barriers facing small practices so they too are able to offer the latest in health IT for their patients—while ensuring the information is secure and privacy is protected. 

As Chairwoman of the Healthcare and Technology Subcommittee, I will continue to investigate all avenues to remove federal barriers holding back small practices from moving to the next level in digital record keeping.