Adversaries Unite For E-Prescribing Bill

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Some of Washington's most partisan politicians are pushing a plan together to turn American doctors on to computerized drug prescriptions .

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran for president in 2004, is joining with conservative former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on a plan to give doctors who treat Medicare patients incentives to use the programs.

Some of the country's big health insurers and doctors' groups are already using electronic prescribing programs. The programs can help reduce prescribing errors by automatically alerting doctors to possibly dangerous drug interactions and may save money by encouraging the use of lower-cost generic drugs .

But smaller doctors' groups and solo practitioners have been slow to buy the platforms. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and many doctors fear they'll become obsolete soon after they're purchased.

Financial Incentives for Computerized Prescriptions

Kerry, Gingrich, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing a bill giving doctors $2,000 in government money toward the purchase of electronic prescribing systems. The bill also calls for paying doctors 1% more through Medicare for prescribing through electronic platforms, beginning in 2008.

"It does save lives, it does save money," says Kerry, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

"Unfortunately at the present time, physicians are not adopting it as rapidly as they could," says Gingrich, who now runs a Washington think tank focusing on health information technology.

An Institute of Medicine report released last year concluded 1.5 million preventable medical errors per year can be blamed on prescribing mistakes.

Many doctors' groups, including the American Medical Association, have not been supportive of efforts to tie doctors' Medicare payments to electronic prescribing.

Lawmakers are hoping to attach the measure to legislation avoiding a scheduled 10% cut to doctors' Medicare fees that goes into effect at the end of the year.

The bill picked up endorsements from the Consumers Union and from a group representing the prescription management companies that handle most Medicare Part D plans.

By Todd Zwillich
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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