Stakeholders weigh in on Senate HELP health IT bill

Several healthcare stakeholders, including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Health IT Now and the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF), have submitted comments on the Senate HELP Committee's draft health IT legislation, unveiled late last month. Comments were due Friday, Jan. 29.

CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell, in his letter to Committee Chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), shares concerns about, but ultimately endorses, the proposed ratings system. He says that the committee should take into consideration "the unique nature of each installation in healthcare settings and the complexity of determining a rating based on one installation."

He also calls on the committee to add a renewal option on a case-by-case basis for up to three years for organizations and providers whose tools have been decertified, noting that because installing or changing software can take years, products that receive one star and ultimately are decertified could be problematic. What's more, Branzell says that the committee must consider the downstream impact of products falling out of certification beyond use in the Meaningful Use program.

In addition, regarding the development by the Government Accountability Office of a report investigating patient matching, he says the committee should mandate that the report be completed within two years of enactment of the law. CHIME recently announced its own national patient ID challenge.

Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White, in his letter to the committee, offers criticism of the Meaningful Use program, calling it unsalvageable. He suggests that it be "torn down" in favor of something that "supports providers in treating patients and improving outcomes." He also worries the law "greatly expands the federal government's authorities related to" regulation of health IT tools, and asks for more clarity for future roles of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

White also says he'd like to see the development of a "hardship fund" to aid providers in transitioning from one product to another in the event of decertification. "Providers should not be held responsible for the bad actions of vendor companies," he says.

Meanwhile, Mark Savage, director of health IT policy and programs at NPWF, wants the committee to consider the burdens on both patients and providers when it comes to access, exchange and use of electronic health information. "Many providers do not fully understand the 'new' rights patients have to their health data electronically, and lack workflows to effectively respond to patient requests, much less offer the data consumers want and need," Savage says in his letter. As a whole, he notes, healthcare seems to be more focused on "guarding data than sharing it."

Many organizations representing vendors commented as well, with HIMSS Electronic Health Record Association, for example, saying that information blocking language in the draft bill could ultimately hinder innovation, Politico reports.

To learn more:
- here's CHIME's letter (.pdf)
- read the Health IT Now letter (.pdf)
- check out NPWF's letter (.pdf)
- read the Politico post