Senate stimulus bill passes: $20B+ for HIT

By Brian Dolan

SenateWith a 61-37 vote, the U.S. Senate passed its $838B version of the economic stimulus bill, which included more than $20 billion for health IT spending. Now the joint House-Senate conference committee needs to resolve the differences between the Senate and House bills, which each call for different funding levels to accelerate adoption of health IT and different language in the IT policy and health information privacy provisions. 

For example, the Senate bill authorizes nearly $20 billion to fund Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for the use of health IT systems, and includes $3 billion in "jump start" funds to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology so that it can disseminate grants and loans quickly. The funds are intended for rural community health centers, community hospitals and physician practices.

The Senate bill also includes funds for telemedicine grants and loans, enhanced I.T. for Indian Health Service facilities, and improved interoperability for first responders. Overall, the Senate package authorizes some $100 billion in spending for healthcare.

At least one big player in Health IT has come forward to urge Congress to push for a resolution to the bills' differences: Fred Humphries, Microsoft's managing director of government affairs, said in a statement, "We continue to believe that additional funding tied to measurable outcomes is needed to help the administration and Congress achieve the goals of lowering healthcare costs for employers and workers and improving the quality of care."