Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia introduced legislation April 24 that would fast-track open-source electronic health records. The Health Information Technology Public Utility Act of 2009 aims to build upon the Department of Veterans Affairs' use of open-source health records as well as the open-source exchange model of the Nationwide Health Information Network-Connect initiative.
Rockefeller's bill would create a grant program for core safety-net providers to cover the full cost of open-source software implementation and maintenance for up to five years. The legislation also offers the possibility of renewal for up to five years if required benchmarks are met.
"We need advancements in health information technology across the board to improve the quality of care Americans receive," Rockefeller said in a statement. "To make this happen, we need universal access to affordable and interoperable health information technology-from small, rural health clinics to large, urban hospitals."
The bill would create a new federal Public Utility Board within the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to direct and oversee formation of a health IT public utility model. The new office would also develop mechanisms to integrate open-source software with Medicaid.
"Open-source software is a cost-effective, proven way to advance health information technology-particularly among small, rural providers," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "This legislation does not replace commercial software; instead, it complements the private industry in this field-by making health information technology a realistic option for all providers."