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Committee Clears Vital Legislation on Health IT

Oct 24, 2007
Press Release
Also Passes Bills on Mine Safety, Ocean Exploration

(Washington, DC) Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology advanced three bills for consideration by the House.

Coordinating information technology (IT) in healthcare (H.R. 2406), improving miner tracking and communication systems (H.R. 3877), and establishing a national ocean exploration program (H.R. 1834) were the focus of the separate bills passed by the full committee.

H.R. 2406, to authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to increase its efforts in support of the integration of the healthcare information enterprise in the U.S., was introduced by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

“There is a general consensus that the result of fully utilized information technology would be lower cost and improved patient care. Regardless of its acknowledged benefits, the use of IT by the healthcare community remains low and lags far behind other segments of our economy such as financial services, banking and manufacturing,” said Gordon. “This bill aims to remedy that problem.”

H.R. 2406 is intended to improve technology in the healthcare system by creating a national, interoperable health IT system to maintain patient healthcare records. The IT system could potentially benefit thousands of people a year who suffer due to medical errors, improper diagnoses, or being prescribed incorrect medications due to lack of a comprehensive family medical history or poorly maintained records.

“In a world of electronic information these issues can only be resolved through the development of technical standards. These standards currently do not exist in any comprehensive form,” added Gordon. “To me, NIST is the obvious federal agency to promote the development of these standards. NIST already has a proven track record in this type of work.”

H.R. 2406 passed the Committee by voice vote. A Manager’s amendment offered by Chairman Gordon was also accepted by voice vote. The amendment clarified that healthcare IT efforts to be undertaken by NIST are intended to complement existing federal health IT efforts that were established by Executive Order 13335 (which created the office of the National Health Information Technology Coordinator); as well as other perfecting changes.

An amendment offered by Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) which requires NIST, in consultation with NSF, establish a task force of federal agency and industry group representatives to create a strategy for developing common terminologies and classifications for use in health IT systems was adopted by a vote of 21-13.

In response to the recent mine disaster in Utah, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) introduced H.R. 3877. This legislation would require the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish an initiative to promote the research, development, and demonstrations of mine tracking and communications system that would allow underground miners to communicate with co-workers above the ground. In addition, it would establish a set of standards to strengthen communication systems to provide U.S. miners with a safer work environment.

"The mine collapse at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah destroyed any means of tracking or communicating with the trapped miners. It was an excruciating ordeal for the families, the mine owner and the mine rescuers. Deep underground mines pose unique technological challenges for existing tracking and communications systems. We need to jump start the research, development and demonstration of new technology that will give mine workers and the industry a safer working environment," said Matheson.

A Manager’s amendment to H.R. 3877, offered by Rep. Matheson, was accepted by voice vote. The amendment expanded the purpose of the research program created in the bill to include the establishment of best practices and the adaptation of existing technology for mine communications. It also added research on characterizing the radio propagation environment, performance metrics, and validation tests as focus areas for the program and broadened the requirement for NIST to develop any needed measurement services for mine communications technology.

The bill, as amended, passed the Committee by voice vote.

The third bill cleared by the Committee was H.R. 1834, authored by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ).

H.R. 1834 would authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create a national ocean exploration program which would research the marine environment, enhance technical capabilities of the U.S. marine science community, and promote an information exchange among the ocean science community. The bill implements a key recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy to provide specific and separate authorizations for the Ocean Exploration and Undersea Research Program within NOAA. The authorizations would further strengthen NOAA's standing as the preeminent civilian federal ocean agency by granting the agency explicit authority to conduct scientific research that directly contributes to increasing scientific knowledge of the world's oceans

“The ocean and coastal areas of our nation support significant economic activity including recreation, fisheries, and mineral and energy production. Rep. Saxton’s legislation formalizes NOAA’s role as our nation’s lead agency in ocean exploration and science and ensures that NOAA will coordinate its efforts with the National Science Foundation and the other federal agencies with a role in ocean science and exploration,” said Gordon.

A Manager’s amendment to H.R. 1834, offered by Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX), was accepted by voice vote. The amendment made changes to clarify the authority of the NOAA Administrator, promote competitive merit-review procedures for evaluating project awards, and reduce the authorization period for the legislation from 10 years to 7 years; as well as other changes to clarify program implementation and direction.

110th Congress