Healthcare organizations and associations widely praised the Senate’s passage Wednesday afternoon of the 21st Century Cures Act, which they call landmark bipartisan legislation that will accelerate new drug approval, fund medical research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and cancer, and expand mental health services.
The legislation–described by Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) as a "Christmas miracle" and “the most important bill of the year”—also aims to help states combat opioid abuse and provide funding for precision medicine initiatives. President Barack Obama vowed to sign the legislation as soon as he receives it.
In addition, the act aims to support health information technology goals, including electronic health record (EHR) interoperability and data privacy and security. And it will risk-adjust readmission measures that have unfairly penalized hospitals for factors outside their control.
The Senate’s vote will “protect vulnerable patients and underserved communities by helping their hospitals keep urgently needed resources to improve care and expand access,” said Bruce Siegel, M.D., president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “With their vote, senators have helped level the playing field for essential hospitals, the backbone of the nation’s safety net.”
Ambulatory surgical centers will also benefit from the legislation, which calls for the creation of a public, searchable web site that will allow Medicare beneficiaries to compare differences in their out-of-pocket costs and in the total expenses for various surgeries when performed in hospital outpatient departments and ASCs.
In addition, it protects physicians who practice in an ASC from potential penalties tied to the Medicare Meaningful Use program. Current law requires Medicare providers to adopt and use certified EHR technology for a fixed percentage of their patients, but no CEHRT is available for ASC encounters, which meant that physicians could face cuts in professional fees if they performed procedures at ASCs.
“Patients benefit when they know their out-of-pocket costs up front and have access to the high quality, cost-effective care that ASCs deliver,” said William Prentice, chief executive officer of The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association. “I commend Congress for recognizing the value that ASCs provide by including these two important provisions.”
The Healthcare Supply Chain Association also applauded the vote. “For healthcare providers to administer first-class patient care—and for patients to effectively engage in their own care—they must have access to vital patient and device data that are currently locked in system silos across the healthcare supply chain,” said Healthcare Supply Chain Association President Todd Ebert in a statement. “Comprehensive EHRs with data that are accessible and interoperable across systems—and operating under appropriate privacy safeguards—will allow providers and patients to see a complete patient health picture and have access to all applicable information when making critical care decisions.