Without changes to our health-care system, analysts predict that Medicaid will bankrupt every state in as few as 20 years. Over the next decade, federal and state combined expenditures on Medicaid will reach $5.2 trillion, forcing states to cut benefits and raise taxes.

The good news is that recent innovations in health-information technology provide new solutions that will improve access and care to Medicaid recipients, simultaneously saving our federal and state governments money. It's time that we bring health care into the 21st century.

The Medicaid Access Project Through Information Technology bill (MAP IT) would authorize the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to conduct two-year pilot projects in selected states to demonstrate the beneficial impact of health IT on chronic-disease case management for the Medicaid population.

Nationwide, chronic-disease patients, including those with diabetes, make up only 20 percent of the Medicaid population, yet they consume nearly 80 percent of Medicaid's costs. In Washington state, this statistic is strikingly similar. In addition to high costs, the coordination of care is a major concern for chronic-disease patients who often see multiple health-care providers and have to manage several prescriptions.

The project, as proposed in our legislation, would give chronic-disease patients and caregivers access to their own medical records and enable them to track their own health information through personal health records. The project will also give patients access to a single source of information on chronic disease and include several channels of communication with health educators.

In return, physicians and caregivers will have access to complete, current treatment and health-status information for chronic-disease patients, using a Web-based virtual-management tool. An effective health IT chronic-disease-management program, such as this one, could result in a more than 3-percent reduction in overallMedicaid program costs while improving the access and quality of care.

Health IT can drastically improve health-care access and the quality of that care, and can dramatically lower the costs. With the current paper-based health-care system, patients and doctors lack instant access to medical information, leading to medical errors, delays and increased costs. With the adoption of health IT, patients and health-care providers can now work collaboratively online to discuss health-care needs.

Washington state is a leader in health IT and would be an excellent candidate for this program. Already, the Northwest Physicians Network (NPN), based in Tacoma, and Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS), based in Spokane, are national models for the integration of health IT.

The NPN is developing a network of health-care providers in the South Puget Sound area to share medical information over a Web-based system. INHS has a network of more than 35 sites in two states, and its use of electronic medical records and telemedicine allows for the delivery of long-distance diagnosis and quality health care to rural areas.

Also, in 2005, the Washington state Legislature implemented a statewide initiative on health IT and electronic medical records. This initiative creates a strategy to increase the use of electronic health records as well as developing a statewide infrastructure for sharing health information.

Health IT has also received attention on the national landscape. During the first part of the 109th congressional session, numerous House and Senate committee hearings were held on the impact of health IT. President Bush discussed it in his State of the Union speech. As the benefits become more widely known, we are confident that our fellow members of Congress will join us in passing this legislation.

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina demonstrates the need for better electronic health-care records as many paper records were destroyed in the flood. With an electronic health-care system in place, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and tornadoes would not lead to the destruction of thousands of health-care records. The safety and security of electronic health-care records would ensure that the quality of care and efficiency would not be lost.

Health IT has the potential to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. It serves as a tool to enhance coordination of care and increase the efficiency of our heath-care system. Most importantly, it will give Medic-aid the financial ability and flexibility to continue to provide health care for those who need it most.

U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma and Cathy McMorris, R-Spokane together introduced HR 4331, the Medicaid Access Project Through Information Technology bill.