Bush orders health agencies to standardize IT systems

President Bush signed an executive order Tuesday requiring federal agencies that administer or support health care programs to move their insurance carriers and medical providers to standardized information systems.

The order requires greater sharing of medical pricing and quality information, the purchase of technology that would support the rapid transfer of such information and health insurance options that reward cost-conscious consumers by allowing them to share in the savings.

Under the order, the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services departments must, by Jan. 1, 2007, codify in their contracts with health insurance carriers and medical providers that they will move toward standard health care technology established by HHS. All agency health IT system upgrades or purchases also must meet the new standards.

For instance, OPM contracts supporting the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will include language for the 2008 contract cycle requiring that new system purchases conform to the HHS standards, said Daniel Green, the personnel agency's deputy associate director for employee and family support policy.

"The idea is to throw the economic power of the federal government toward this initiative," Green said. "We think it will drive the market."

By requiring the four largest government health care providers to deal with insurance companies and providers with one voice and uniform technologies, the government can induce providers and insurers to purchase new systems that are interoperable, Green said.

"We want to make sure they are not buying Beta when VHS has been decided on," Green said. "It is kind of absurd that the airline industry is fully electronic but the health care industry is not."

The goal is making health records of all federal employees electronic, Green added. That could save billions of dollars and improve care by speeding up and improving the accuracy of the information given to providers, he said.

Legislation under consideration in the House Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee, H.R. 4859, would require federal health providers and insurance providers to put claims and services data into electronic records by 2008.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, praised the move in a statement Tuesday and announced that he and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., will be introducing legislation next month to address medical record transparency. That would be accomplished by establishing electronic records for FEHBP enrollees.

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