Aging Chairman Also Includes Language Supporting AoA Disease Prevention Initiatives; Other HIT Improvements

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, successfully amended the Senate stimulus package to ensure that long-term care (LTC) facilities are eligible for health information technology (HIT) funding. Specifically, Kohl expanded the general definition of "health care provider" to also include nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities, in addition to skilled nursing facilities and home health entities. 
"Health IT has been shown to save lives and save money," said Kohl. "Long-term care facilities are an important part of our health care system. It was crucial that they be included in the national push to adopt health IT."
Senator Kohl also hailed the passage of several other provisions in the stimulus, as detailed below.
  • Loans for Hospitals to Upgrade Existing HIT Systems: The stimulus includes provisions to invest in hospitals and reduce health care costs through the promotion of health information technology (HIT). Senator Kohl successfully amended the stimulus to include loans for hospitals that had the foresight to adopt HIT and improve their services before direct federal funds were made available to them. The loans would provide these early adopters with funding so that they are able to meet new federal privacy and compatibility standards.
  • Increased Privacy Protection for Personal Health Records: Senator Kohl included a provision to strengthen the privacy protections in the HIT section of the stimulus. In its original form, the stimulus did not require personal health record (PHR) vendors, such as Microsoft or Google, to protect the health information they imported.    Senator Kohl clarified the intent of Congress with report language to ensure that all PHR vendors face the same privacy requirements.
  • Support for AoA Funding Allocation: Senator Kohl ensured the inclusion of language that would urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allocate a portion of the $5.8 billion provided to the Public Health Services Emergency Fund to the Administration on Aging's (AoA) evidence-based disease prevention and wellness programs. These AoA programs have served nearly 30,000 older adults in twenty-seven states since 2003 and have saved Medicare up to $300 million. Expanding the funding for these programs by $200 million would create approximately 2,000 new jobs and reach up to 1 million older adults.
In 2007, Senator Kohl was instrumental in securing the inclusion of long-term care facilities in S. 1693, the Wired for Health Care Quality Act, which promoted HIT by setting national standards and furnishing start-up funds. Many older Americans suffer from multiple chronic conditions that require the care of several doctors; HIT makes the transmission of information between doctors more convenient. Furthermore, the current paper-based system of health records utilized by a majority of health care providers exacerbates inefficiencies that can lead to preventable medical errors. For instance, searching through physical medical files slows access to life-saving information about a patient. The Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors caused by these and other circumstances. 
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