Sequestration could delay ONC security, privacy projects

Sequester cuts will take a $3 million bite from the $60 million annual budget of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. 

Although across-the-board sequester budget cuts began on March 1, federal agencies are still calculating and implementing those cuts. The Office for Civil Rights, the unit within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services responsible for HIPAA enforcement, has yet to determine the impact on its budget, for example.

National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari told members of the press at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual meeting in New Orleans that the sequestration cuts would be difficult for the Meaningful Use Medicare incentive program.

Those cuts could affect the ONC's ongoing work on data privacy and security, according to a GovInfoSecurity.com article.

ONC's Data Segmentation Initiative, launched in 2011 to use metadata tags to help protect the security and privacy of sensitive health information during exchange, could be among the projects delayed or deferred. Projects related to electronic patient consent and authentication could be affected, as well.

"The data segmentation [pilot work] is continuing, but it seems that follow up would be curtailed," an ONC spokesman told GovInfoSecurity.com.

Some also believe that delays in the privacy and security projects could hinder implementation of Stage 2 of the HITECH Act incentive program.

"We are still looking at reducing or eliminating support for lower-priority projects outside of the Meaningful Use [HITECH incentive] framework, including long-term care clinical care summary standards and modular application interoperability ... and enhancements to the Clinical Quality Measure testing engine," according to ONC.

Sequestration triggered $11 billion in cuts to the Medicare program. The 2 percent cuts to Medicare payments are expected to cost some hospitals millions of dollars a year, but a variety of reports suggest hospital finance leaders will be able to cope with the reductions for now.

The 2.2 percent cuts to Medicare Advantage insurers also go into affect Monday, a move that has prompted thousands of seniors to contact their lawmakers in protest.

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