EHR vendors urge CMS, ONC to extend comment period on proposed information blocking, interoperability rules

Electronic health record developers say they need more time to review and comment on the dual information blocking and interoperability rules dropped last month, according to the Electronic Health Record Association (EHRA).

The EHRA is requesting that federal policy leaders provide a 30-day extension on the rules’ comment period.

In letters to both Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, M.D., the EHRA, which represents most of the major EHR vendors, said the CMS and ONC rules are substantive and together “the rules suggest complicated, significant adjustments to the complex regulations already governing the health IT industry.”

“Stakeholders deserve adequate time to provide thoughtful, detailed comments on the impacts of the proposals,” the HIMSS EHRA executive committee wrote in the letter to CMS.

Last month, ONC finally unveiled its 724-page information blocking rule (PDF), and CMS released a proposed rule (PDF) taking aim at data blocking. CMS is proposing to require Medicare Advantage organizations, state Medicaid and CHIP fee-for-service programs, Medicaid managed care plans, CHIP managed care entities and QHP issuers in FFS programs to implement, test, and monitor openly published FHIR-based APIs to make patient claims and other health information available to patients through third-party applications and developers.

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally published the "21st Century Cures Act: Interoperability, Information Blocking, and the ONC Health IT Certification Program" draft rule in the federal register yesterday, so the comment period runs from March 4 through May 3.

“As we’ve begun to delve more deeply into the proposed rule, we have already identified several areas that would indirectly require developer action, which appears unanticipated by the authors of the proposed regulations. We recognize the desire to roll out these rules quickly; but, with an ultimate goal of enhanced usability and widespread data sharing, it’s important that adequate time be allowed for commenters,” the group wrote to Verma.

In the letter to ONC’s Rucker, the group said if EHR developers had additional time, it would enable them to survey EHR Association members in order to provide ONC with actual development timelines for the measures being proposed. “While some measures may be straightforward to achieve in a short timeline, others are likely to require more complex coding and implementation, thus calling into question the feasibility of the proposed 24-month development, testing, and implementation timeline,” the group wrote.

RELATED: HIMSS19: Seema Verma says proposed information blocking rules with 2020 deadlines 'realistic'

During a Health IT Advisory Committee meeting Feb. 20, HITAC member Denise Webb, a health IT consultant, said many CIOs had voiced concerns regarding the 60-day comment period to review both rules. The ONC rule, in particular, includes multiple requests for information (RFIs), Webb said.

Elise Sweeney Anthony, executive director of policy at ONC, said at the time that ONC would stick with the 60-day comment period, which ends May 3. “We think it’s important for us to move forward as quickly as possible towards developing the final rule,” Anthony said.

EHRA wrote in the letter to ONC, "We recognize the desire to roll out these rules quickly, but with an ultimate goal of enhanced usability, it is important that adequate time be allowed for commenters." 

An ONC spokesperson said ONC was reviewing the request for an extension. A CMS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.