Washington

News about the contents of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act conference report is dribbling out drop by drop.

Lawmakers said Wednesday that the conference report version, which irons out difference between the House and Senate drafts of H.R. 1, appears to include enough funding to pay 60% of group health continuation premiums for laid-off workers for 9 months, and about $2 billion in support for private-sector efforts to spur use of electronic health records.

At this point, we still have not seen an authoritative summary of the conference report.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the conference report also provides $1 billion for a new prevention and wellness fund along with $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research, to help patients and doctors determine the effectiveness of different treatments.

A health information privacy and security section would require that an individual be notified if there were an unauthorized disclosure or use of the individual’s health information and would mandate that a patient would have to give permission before others could use the patient’s personal health information for marketing purposes.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, is welcoming indications that the stimulus bill will include substantial funding for health coverage, effectiveness studies and health information technology.

“Investments in health IT will improve efficiency, reduce medical errors, and ultimately lower health care costs,” AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says.

AHIA – NAIFA Health & Employee Benefits, the benefits arm of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., is welcoming the news that lawmakers have kept the wellness and prevention funding in the H.R. 1 conference report.

The House version included wellness funding, but members of the Senate cut out wellness funding in an effort to hold down the cost of the package.

“It seemed ironic that the Senate would cut funding in its stimulus package when the government clearly knows that disease prevention can reduce the illness that is the leading cause of death in the U.S.,” AHIA President Robelynn Abadie says.

AHIA also supports the provision that would help workers pay for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act health coverage continuation benefits.

AHIA representatives say they have heard that the conference committee has excluded a provision from the House version of H.R. 1 that would have extended COBRA eligibility for laid-off employees 55 years old or older until the laid-off employees were legible for Medicare or found new jobs.

“Implementation of that provision would have been costly and difficult to administer,” AHIA says.