HIMSS officials hopeful their 3 congressional 'asks' will progress in the coming months

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The CONNECT for Health Act was reintroduced in the Senate in May, but was sidelined by other healthcare reform talks in Congress. The bill, also known as the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act of 2017, would expand Medicare coverage to include telehealth and remote monitoring services. 

With 2018 fast approaching, HIMSS has set three legislative goals that include insurance coverage for telehealth and an expanded focus on cybersecurity within the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's three "congressional asks," recently released by its Public Policy Committee, are: 

  1. Create a cybersecurity role within the Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Pass the CONNECT for Health Act.
  3. Invest in infrastructure to support the 21st Century Cures Act.

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Tom Leary, vice president for government relations for HIMSS North America, said at a press briefing last week that he thinks there is interest in the organization's goals from members of Congress, but that multiple attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have delayed other healthcare discussions. But he added that he's hopeful lawmakers will make progress on HIMSS' asks in the coming months. 

"When you get farther into next spring or summer, that's the challenge," Leary said. 

Interoperability and electronic health records are notably absent from the organization's congressional asks this year because much of the legislative work on interoperability was completed when 21st Century Cures passed, according to Leary.

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Instead, the government must now invest in the infrastructure improvements needed to improve interoperability, which includes expanding broadband access to rural areas. Hospitals in more remote regions are less likely to have the ability to connect to large, data-sharing networks. 

To enhance cybersecurity leadership at HHS, HIMSS has pushed the agency to raise its chief information security officer to be on par with the chief information officer. Leary said that conversations on Capitol Hill suggest that there is progress on that goal. 

Increasing the power of the CISO would create a high-level position at HHS to both be an external figure on cybersecurity, working with providers and other industry groups to prevent attacks, but also an internal lead on the issue, overseeing improvements to HHS' own security measures. 

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Carla Smith, executive vice president for HIMSS North America, said at the briefing that HIMSS is undertaking a concurrent effort to increase the number of cybersecurity professionals working in healthcare. The group is working with colleges and universities to create the appropriate curricula and to attract students into cybersecurity programs.

It's also working with recruitment groups that could bring in people that have the cybersecurity know-how, but haven't yet deployed it in a healthcare setting. 

"Some have got the beginnings of what's needed to be a cyber professional in the healthcare space," she said. 

The CONNECT for Health Act was reintroduced in the Senate in May, but was sidelined by other healthcare reform talks in Congress. The bill, also known as the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act of 2017, would expand Medicare coverage to include telehealth and remote monitoring services. 

A bill that would make telehealth a core benefit in Medicare Advantage plans was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee last month. 

RELATED: Reimbursement persists as an obstacle to telehealth adoption 

Leary said one of the things HIMSS is doing to support the law is working with stakeholders to gather data on Medicare recipients since the Congressional Budget Office doesn't score bills like CONNECT well if they don't show reduced costs. 

But, Smith said, providers who offer telehealth services are eager for legislative actions given the ongoing reimbursement challenges that many programs face. 

"Clinicians are donating time," she said. "They're providing telehealth knowing they're not going to get paid."