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Congress Tackles EHR Woes, Information Blocking, Interoperability

August 06, 2015

The Senate health committee will ask CMS to delay the third and final stage of Meaningful Use to allow the panel time to submit recommendations on the incentive program.

The article originally appeared in HIM-HIPAA Insider.

Congress has taken notice of healthcare providers' woes and frustrations dealing with electronic health records (EHRs) and lawmakers are determined to work out a solution that promotes progress in health technology as well as better care for patients.

Federal incentives to encourage physicians and hospitals to adopt EHRs have begun to dry up as CMS winds down its Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. Total Medicare bonus payments to eligible professionals and hospitals have decreased and will last through 2016, but effective in 2015, CMS has started imposing penalties on participants who don't achieve Meaningful Use with their EHRs.

That, combined with the costs to implement and maintain EHRs as well as burdensome federal regulations (according to physicians), is calling negative attention to the $30 billion incentive programs. To compound matters, all of this is occurring at a time when regulators are trying to push ahead on nationwide interoperability.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) doesn't want to diminish those frustrations, he wants to resolve them by addressing problems with the six-year-old program.

The Senate health committee chaired by Alexander will ask CMS to delay the third and final stage of Meaningful Use to allow the panel time to submit recommendations on the incentive program.

Those recommendations are being written in a format HHS could adopt through rulemaking instead of legislation as part of a bipartisan effort between Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The senators anticipate that if new legislation is needed, however, it could be developed in early 2016.

Meanwhile, Alexander's committee continues to hold hearings with industry experts on how to achieve interoperability across the nation. The latest hearing on July 23 focused on information blocking, which is also addressed in the 21st Century Cures Act—a bill that passed the House July 10.

Information blocking refers to obstacles that prohibit electronic sharing of a person's health information between computer systems. Such obstacles, intentional or not, naturally derail efforts to seamlessly share data across platforms and systems, and subvert the intention behind EHR systems.

Alexander speculated information blocking may be occurring for several reasons, including legitimate privacy concerns by physicians or hospitals as well as targeted business strategies. It also raises the question, he said, of whether the publicly funded push to implement EHRs inadvertently encouraged this type of behavior.

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