A panel answered citizens' questions about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed California health care reform via Webcast, Tuesday. Moderated by Herb Schultz, senior health care policy advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger, the questions ranged from costs for small businesses, to cost shifting, to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. The panel also spoke about the role health information technology will play in the governor's reform plans.

According to Schultz, there are seven various initiatives in the new health care proposal which are meant to increase the access to, and the use of, health information technology. The proposals included ways to protect information, such as patients' records, when being accessed through Web based systems.

Schwarzenegger wants to expand broadband capabilities into rural areas so that telemedicine and telehealth systems can be expanded. Increasing broadband capabilities, according to the plans, will increase communication between clinics in smaller communities and hospitals in larger cities, hopefully improving health care in underserved areas of the state. He also has included an initiative in the plans to make all prescriptions available by E-prescribing by 2010.

As part of the reforms, patient health records will be secured with the "correct level of security and privacy," said Schultz. There would be an appointed state level position to "oversee a dynamic system around health information technology" including the security of patients' health records.

"The bottom line ... is that health information technology allows greater access to medical services, it also, in the longer term, adds and contributes greatly to the governor's affordability agenda," said Schultz.

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer