New House health leader maps out desired sweeping policy changes

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The incoming House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee chairman has laid out a healthcare agenda for the upcoming Congress. It includes changing the Medicare prescription drug benefit and conducting oversight of Bush administration health policies.

When it convenes in January, the House should quickly pass legislation that allows the government to negotiate with drug makers for lower Medicare Part D drug prices, said Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA). Democrats also have talked about eliminating the so-called doughnut hole in the benefit, but Stark expressed doubts they could succeed.

Stark also said the federal government must allocate funding to providers to spread the development of health information technology. Providers then should be mandated to use it. Under his plan, providers would have five years to adopt IT, after which time they would not be paid if they are not using it, Stark said.

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