Legislation Requires Development of Standards and Protocols for Electronic Enrollment, and Eligibility Notification and Verification

Bernadette M. Broccolo, Daniel F. Gottlieb, and Jean Marie R. Pechette, for HealthLeaders Media, April 22, 2010

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Act). This sweeping health reform legislation requires the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to develop interoperable and secure standards and protocols to facilitate the enrollment of individuals in federal and state health and human services programs, and authorizes grants to state and local governments to promote the implementation of health information technology (HIT) to facilitate enrollment in the programs.

Once issued, the new standards and protocols may affect how healthcare providers conduct health plan eligibility verification transactions standardized under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), as well as how providers comply with the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs' "meaningful use" objectives and measures pertaining to use of an EHR for electronic insurance eligibility verification. The standards and protocols may also affect how vendors' EHR technology is certified as capable of enabling meaningful use.

HIT Enrollment Standards and Protocols
No later than 180 days after enactment, the HHS, in consultation with the HIT policy and HIT standards committees created by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), is required to develop interoperable and secure standards and protocols that facilitate the electronic enrollment of individuals in federal and state health and human services programs. The standards and protocols must facilitate enrollment in such programs by providing individuals and their authorized representatives notification and verification of eligibility. The standards and protocols must also allow for the following:

  • Electronic matching against existing federal and state data, including vital records, employment history, enrollment systems, tax records and other data determined appropriate by HHS to serve as evidence of eligibility in lieu of paper-based documentation
  • Simplification and submission of electronic documentation, digitization of documents and systems verification of eligibility
  • Reuse of stored eligibility information (including documentation) to assist with retention of eligible individuals
  • Capability for individuals to apply, recertify and manage their eligibility information online, including at home, points of service and other community-based locations
  • Ability to expand enrollment systems to integrate new programs, rules and functionalities; to operate at increased volume; and to apply streamlined verification and eligibility processes to other federal and state programs
  • Notification of eligibility, recertification and other needed communication regarding eligibility, which may include communication via e-mail and cell phones
  • Other functionalities necessary to provide eligible individuals with a streamlined enrollment process

HHS must notify states of the standards or protocols that have been approved by the HIT policy and HIT standards committees. HHS may require, as a condition of receiving federal funds for enrollment HIT investments, that states and other entities incorporate the standards and protocols into the investments.

Grants for Implementation of Appropriate Enrollment HIT Development
The Act authorizes HHS to award grants (in amounts not specified) to state and local governments to develop new and adapt existing technology systems to implement HIT enrollment standards and protocols, reduce enrollment HIT maintenance costs, and eliminate or update legacy enrollment systems.

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