Bush Pushes for Health Care Information

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 22, 2006; 10:11 PM

MINNETONKA, Minn. -- President Bush, on a campaign fundraising trip Tuesday, signed an executive order that the administration said would help Americans choose health care the way they shop for airline tickets and cars.

The order will require various federal agencies to compile information about the quality and price of health care they pay for, and share that information with their customers and each other.

"How many of you have got insurance and you never really care about the cost because somebody else is paying the bill?" Bush asked rhetorically. "You don't really care about quality because some person in an office somewhere is paying the bill on your behalf."

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said the executive order is a way for the federal government, which pays for up to 40 percent of all health care, to use its purchasing power to push for changes in the health care system.

After his health care event, Bush attended a fundraiser in nearby Wayzata to raise an estimated $425,000 for Minnesota Republicans and state Sen. Michele Bachmann, who is running for an open seat in the House. The event, attracting about 300 people to Jim and Joann Jundt's home on Lake Minnetonka, cost $1,000 a person. Photographs with Bush were going for $5,000.

Bachmann is being challenged by Democrat Patty Wetterling, who raised almost twice as much money in the second quarter as Bachmann. By pairing an official event with a campaign fundraiser, the White House can reduce the amount of money a political campaign must pay for Bush's attendance. How much a campaign pays for Bush's appearance is determined by a complex formula that calculates how much of the day's travel was political versus official.

The executive order directs government agencies that buy health care to use information systems that can communicate with each other, allowing the medical records of a veteran in Maine, for instance, to be viewed by a doctor in California.

It also directs agencies to set up programs to measure the quality of care, disclose prices that agencies pay for common treatments and find ways to promote high-quality health care.

"I think the new trend in medicine is going to be to encourage transparency in pricing as well as transparency in quality."

© 2006 The Associated Press