Legislators urge CMS, ONC to tweak MU Stage 3 to reduce health disparities

Twenty-four members of the House of Representatives have asked the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to leverage the development of Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program to reduce and potentially eliminate health disparities.

In a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo March 6, the representatives recommend that the agencies:

  • Improve data collection to identify and analyze health disparities. Currently Meaningful Use only requires a basic level of race, ethnicity, and sex and language data collection
  • Expand data collection to include disability status, gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Improve data use to reduce disparities, such as using EHRs to stratify patient health status by local, relevant disparity variables
  • Improve health literacy and communication
  • Improve access, such as by ensuring that EHRs can receive data from mobile health applications

"The reduction of health disparities is one of the stated goals of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act," the legislators wrote. "As regulations regarding the Stage 3 Meaningful Use criteria are promulgated, we ask that you incorporate these recommendations to not only give weight to that goal, but to make a positive life-altering impact for the nation's underserved and vulnerable populations."

On Tuesday, the Health IT Policy Committee approved the Meaningful Use workgroup's Stage 3 recommendations. The workgroup eliminated eight of 26 initial recommendations, which now will go to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. A final rule is not expected until 2015.

Ironically, Meaningful Use may unintentionally increase health disparities, as hospitals with more resources have an easier time successfully attesting and obtaining the incentive payments, while smaller, rural hospitals who typically treat a greater percentage of sicker, uninsured and Medicaid populations will be more likely to incur penalties for failing to demonstrate Meaningful Use.

To learn more:
- read the announcement