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Across the country, campaign season is in full-swing.  Candidates and pundits alike have declared that with a new President and a new Congress, 2009 will be the year for health care reform.

But wait – it’s only July 2008!  So why wait six months or more to enact health care reform legislation that will save you money, and save lives across America? 

Many politicians are content to play election-year politics and make you wait for needed health insurance reforms.  I’m not.  There are no good reasons for us as a Congress to sit on our hands and wait another year to address the health care crisis that our country is facing.  Every day, health care costs increase.  Every day, more Americans are forced to choose to buy gas and groceries or pay for health coverage for themselves and their families.  And every day, Americans visiting their doctors are injured and even killed by preventable medical errors.

Why wait? In Wyoming, no one asks me what I am going to do next year about health care – they want solutions now.  The American people sent us here to act – not to talk, not to wait, but to act.  That is why I truly hope that we can take action this year, before the election, and begin to address our health care crisis.

I have introduced a bill, Ten Steps to Transform Health Care in America, which would go a long way in making sure that every American has health insurance.  I encourage readers to go to my website (enzi.senate.gov) to learn about each of the steps.  We could enact any of these sensible proposals today and see real results tomorrow.

One step that Congress can and should pass this year is a bipartisan health information technology (health IT) plan to encourage the adoption of cutting-edge information technologies in health care to improve patient care, reduce medical errors, and cut health care costs.  In short, this proposal will save lives and money.

When it comes to diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries, America has the best, most innovative medical technologies in the world.  Unfortunately, in most doctors’ offices, information-sharing technologies have not kept pace.  Sending the results of a diagnostic test from one office to another is like trying to share photographs from your digital camera using a typewriter – it just won’t work.

Think about the last time you went to a doctor’s office.  They probably gave you a clipboard and asked you to write down everything you could remember about your health history.  If you’re like me, you have more to remember every time you go – but are less likely to remember it all!  As a result, your doctors don’t know everything about you that they need to prescribe the best course of treatment.  They waste time and money on duplicate testing – tests that may even put you at unnecessary risk.

Because our system relies on an antiquated pen-and-paper system, we lose thousands of lives and waste billions of dollars each year.  Imagine if, instead, we had a health care system that harnessed all the powers of 21st century information technology.  Imagine if your doctors and nurses had all the information about you that they need without having you fill out the same forms over and over.  You could go to a doctor’s office anywhere in the country, and they would know your medical history, what prescription drugs you’re taking, and what tests you’ve already undergone – even if you could not remember!

Doctors and nurses across the country would be on the same page and speak the same language, with all the information they need to determine the best courses of treatment, cut down on administrative costs, and eliminate repetitive testing.  The technology is there – we need to apply it.  But first, we need national standards to bring health care into the 21st century.

I have cosponsored a bipartisan bill, the “Wired for Health Care Quality Act,” S. 1693, that will provide grants to health care providers to encourage the adoption of health IT.  Our bill, which I introduced with Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), will establish a public-private process to develop uniform standards to lay the foundation for information sharing among doctors, hospitals, and insurers to ensure that patient data, insurance and medical histories are available wherever and whenever treatment is needed. A Rand Corporation study projected a potential savings of $162 billion a year for the health care industry once the US achieves widespread adoption of electronic health records.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that doctors who utilize health IT are very satisfied with the improvement in the quality of care they can provide for their patients.  However, most doctors are waiting for Congress to take action and establish uniform standards so that they can take advantage of the many benefits of health IT.  We urgently need to act so that doctors can harness the transformative powers of information technology.

We have the opportunity to save lives and money.  It’s time to act now on health IT legislation and health reform legislation.  A patient can’t wait until next year to have an operation they need today. American’s shouldn’t have to wait until next year to get the health care reform they need today.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee