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Analysis

Verma Scolds 'Bad Actors' Opposing Interoperability

By John Commins  
   January 29, 2020

The CMS administrator suggested that some healthcare electronic records vendors are acting to protect "short-term profits."

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma on Wednesday scolded "bad actors" opposing an interoperability proposed rule, accusing them of protecting the status quo for profits' sake, frustrating the public, and providing "fuel" for advocates of a government takeover of healthcare.

"Access to one's data can be a matter of life and death, and this administration will not waver in ensuring that patients enjoy full ownership of their data," Verma told the 2020 CMS Healthcare Innovation Industry Day audience, in Washington, D.C. 

However, she warned that "the sort of consumer-oriented revolution that will make the healthcare system more affordable and accessible is undermined by those bad actors throughout the system that continue to guard the status quo because it's in the interest of their short-term profits."

While Verma did not single out any particular "bad actors," her remarks appear to have been directed at health records giant Epic Systems, and CEO Judith Faulkner, who earlier this month urged hospital CEOs to sign on to a letter opposing CMS's push for interoperability.

At the top of Epic's webpage, the company warns that "by requiring health systems to send patient data to any app requested by the patient, the ONC rule inadvertently creates new privacy risks."

"According to a recent study, 79% of healthcare apps resell or share data[i], and there is no regulation requiring patient approval of this downstream use. There are two highly likely patient privacy risks," Epic said.

Verma scoffed at the HIT lobby's concerns that the proposed rule could put at risk patient confidentiality.

"The disingenuous efforts by certain private actors to use privacy, as vile as it is, as a pretext for holding patient data hostage is an embarrassment to the industry," she said.

"The short-sightedness of such efforts is deeply troubling considering the broad frustration of the American people with the status quo, and it's the fuel that is driving the calls for the destruction of the entire private healthcare system," Verma said.

On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar used an address at the annual meeting of the Office of the National Coordinator to take shots at "scare tactics" used by EHR vendors, "some (who) are defending the balkanized, outdated status quo and fighting our proposals fiercely."

“The disingenuous efforts by certain private actors to use privacy, as vile as it is, as a pretext for holding patient data hostage is an embarrassment to the industry.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Seema Verma warned that interoperability is being undermined by "bad actors... in the interest of their short-term profits."

Her remarks appear to have been directed at Epic Systems and CEO Judith Faulkner, who earlier this month urged hospital CEOs to oppose CMS's push for interoperability.

Verma said undermining CMS's efforts to improve interoperability will increase public frustration, and provide "fuel" for advocates of government intervention in healthcare.

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