Cybersecurity, telehealth bills likely to stall in Congress, CHIME officials say

doctor using tablet
Despite turmoil on Capitol Hill over impeachment hearings, health IT industry leaders need to keep their eyes on major interoperability regulations coming out of the Department of Health and Human Services. (Khunatorn/GettyImages)

PHOENIX—Significant health IT-related bills could be in the pipeline in 2020, including cybersecurity and telehealth legislation.

The big question is whether the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats against President Donald Trump will stall efforts to move forward on health IT priorities, according to policy experts at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) Monday.

Speaking during a policy update during the CHIME Fall CIO Forum, Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs at CHIME, said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, will likely introduce healthcare cybersecurity legislation. The senator has pushed the healthcare sector on cybersecurity gaps and the need to strengthen cyberpolicies. 

The goal with any potential legislation would be to help small and medium facilities "up their cyber game," Krigstein said.

RELATED: Providers, payers unprepared for data blocking, interoperability rules: Accenture survey

There also could be new telehealth bills on the horizon on the heels of the bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act introduced in both the House and Senate in October. That bill aims to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth services.

"The dawn of telehealth has occurred on Capitol Hill. Whether it's major bills like the CONNECT for Health Act or smaller proposals that look at specific regions or iterations in technology, everyone is viewing telehealth as the future. It’s just going to be healthcare another modality to deliver healthcare," Krigstein said.

Federal lawmakers also have shown interest in a "Cures 2.0," a second iteration of the 21st Century Cures Act, CHIME policy leaders said. Politico has reported that Reps. Fred Upton, D-Colorado, and Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, are working a healthcare-focused bill centered on interoperability and patient access.

However, these legislative efforts, along with other healthcare regulations like surprise billing and drug pricing, will likely be stalled in Congress with the upcoming 2020 election and impeachment talk dominating action on Capitol Hill, policy leaders say.

Many policy leaders expected 2019 to be the year for data privacy. The California Consumer Privacy Act establishes new, groundbreaking consumer privacy rights in that state, and there have been ongoing conversations about federal privacy laws preempting state laws.

"The reality is these efforts are stalled like so much else," Krigstein. 

RELATED: HHS delivers first fine under new information blocking initiative to Florida hospital

Other business

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a bill that would create new privacy regulations protecting consumer health data collected through health tracking apps, fitness wearables and direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits.

Many health IT groups, including CHIME, continue to push for the creation of a unique patient identifier in U.S. healthcare to help address issues with patient matching. The U.S. House of Representatives in June voted in favor of lifting a ban on using federal funding to create patient identifiers but a similiar amendment did not surface in the Senate.

Despite turmoil on Capitol Hill over impeachment hearings, health IT industry leaders need to keep their eyes on major regulations coming out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) will likely finalize by the end of the year its major rule on healthcare interoperability and data blocking, despite industry groups urging ONC to provide more clarity on the rule before finalizing it.

That rule, which is now under review at the Office of Management and Budget, also outlined new fines for hospitals or physicians that block patient access to their own medical records.

RELATED: AMA, CHIME call for ONC to make major changes to data blocking regulation

The Trump administration has placed a high priority on giving patients access to their data, CHIME policy experts noted, and federal interoperability rules will have a major impact on healthcare executives for the next decade.

 A final rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also is expected to drop soon that will require Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage plans and qualified health plans to make customer data immediately accessible via application programming interfaces by next year. 

In September, HHS fined its first hospital under an initiative to combat information blocking, charging that a Florida hospital took too long to fulfill a patient's record request. Bayfront Health St. Petersburg has to pay HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) $85,000 for failing to give a mother timely access to records about her unborn child.

"That was the first toe in the water," Mari Savickis, vice president of federal affairs at CHIME, said of the OCR settlement. "Do your front office staff know how to provide medical records to patients in a timely manner? You need to ensure everyone in your system knows how to facilitate access to patient information," she told the CHIME Fall Forum audience.