Senate health committee unanimously passes HIT bill

The Improving Health Information Technology Act and six other bills cleared the Senate health committee with bipartisan support at a hearing on Tuesday.

Notably, the revised Improving HIT Act, for which draft legislation was unveiled late last month, removes verbiage calling for the creation of a Health IT Advisory Committee through a combination of the current Health IT Policy and Health IT Standards Committees. It also does not carry over language mandating electronic health record products to be capable of trusted exchange with "multiple other EHR products."

The bill passed unanimously.

Commenting on the bill at the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) lauded the effort, calling it an important step forward. However, he added that a lot of work remains, flagging three concerns:

"[First] we've got to provide a lot more support in health information exchanges rather than just continuing with Meaningful Use," Whitehouse said. "Two, we've got to address privacy issues that are bedeviling these systems. ... Finally, we need to do something for behavioral health and for nursing homes that are outside of the Meaningful Use parameters."

Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn., pictured) added that such legislative efforts are necessary, particularly as many new federal efforts--including the Precision Medicine Initiative and the reformation of payment models--require the use of EHRs and other health information technology. He also applauded cooperation shown by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.

"Our goal is to make our country's electronic health record system something that helps patients rather than something that doctors and hospitals dread so much that patients are not helped," Alexander said in a statement. "We have worked for months--with input from those who actually use the system--to help improve health information technology and I'm glad to see this legislation move forward as part of a successful first meeting on our committee's bipartisan biomedical innovation agenda."

To learn more:
- here's the revised bill (.pdf)
- check out this summary (.pdf)