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Senate wants state involved in healthcare-IT partnership

Madison, Wis. — A bill passed by the Wisconsin Senate attempts to unite public and private interests in a new effort to improve health care in the state using information technology.

Bill AB 907, which was introduced by state representative Gregg Underheim and approved unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday, authorizes the state to participate directly in the Wisconsin Health Information Organization. WHIO, a non-profit collaboration between health-care and insurance firms in Wisconsin, seeks to create a statewide data repository of medical information for use by providers and purchasers.

Nancy Nankivil Bennett, director of the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds, said the bill will allow the state to contract directly with WHIO to define the organization's public reporting as it moves forward. Additionally, representatives of two state organizations - the Department of Employee Trust Funds and Department of Health and Family Services - will now have seats on the WHIO board.

"The bill really forges that public-private collaboration," Bennett said. She said it is still too early to say how much funding the state will provide WHIO.

"With the state involved, we know have this partnership that allows WHIO to have some dollars flow its way from state government," Bennett said. "It's extremely helpful to have this legislation and it strengthens the private commitment to the organization."
WHIO, which was formally created in September 2005, consists of nine companies in Wisconsin who specialize in health care, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield WI, Greater Milwaukee Business Foundation on Health, United Healthcare of Wisconsin, WPS Health Insurance and the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality. The organization is helmed by John Toussaint, president of the Fox Valley ThedaCare health system.wis

"With a statewide data repository, we can move beyond sticker prices on only selected parts of care to comparable cost and quality data for an entire episode of care, such as hip replacement, which spans multiple care systems and settings," Toussaint said in a statement.

Bennett said WHIO wants to use the information for public health research, so people in need of health care can make value-based purchases. With direct connections to the state, they can evaluate the level of health care purchased for state of WI employees, retirees and people on Medicare.

"The data can be used to improve the quality of health care and create public reports that can help consumers understand quality, cost, safety and efficiency," Bennett said.

The group is drafting a proposal for vendors to build the data repository and hopes to have one contracted by July. Bennett said they optimistically plan to have the database operational early next year.

Seth Foldy, principal investigator for the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange, said that the group's goal of establishing a warehouse of claims information is a welcome development to his organization. While there is currently no connection between WHIE and WHIO beyond "a slightly unfortunate convergence in names", Foldy said they are looking with great interest at WHIO and their efforts to improve clinician care.

"It's a positive development, not a competitive development," Foldy said.

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