US stimulus bill may have health IT funds-Verizon

WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Congress’ economic stimulus package may include $20 billion for the government’s Medicaid health insurance program and others to adopt health information technology (IT), which would create jobs and improve medical care, Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) chief executive Ivan Seidenberg said on Wednesday.

A key component of any legislation would be to give the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to set uniform, interoperable standards for health IT software, which would“jump-start the market” for it, Seidenberg said.

“It’s cost effective, it’s timely and it definitely will be transformative,” he told reporters at a Business Roundtable briefing on health IT. Health IT would let doctors integrate a patient’s lab test results, treatment history, and other data to improve care and cut costs.

Democrats in Congress are working with president-elect Barack Obama on a broad $800 billion package of measures aimed at creating jobs and stabilizing the U.S. economy.

“The range of discussions right now are in the $20-plus-billion dollar,” Seidenberg said.“That’s a good initial start.”

The health IT proposal would create an estimated 200,000 direct U.S. jobs for hardware, software and code-writing, according to the Business Roundtable.

Much of the $20 billion would be spent on funding for the government’s vast Medicare system to adopt health IT, a step that would effectively force other providers to make the same move because of Medicare’s clout and influence, the group said. Medicare is the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

The Business Roundtable represents chief executives of General Motors Corp (GM.N), American Express Co (AXP.N), Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) and other big U.S. companies, which are looking for ways to slow the rapid rise in U.S. healthcare costs. (Reporting by Julie Vorman, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)