HHS extends comment period for proposed interoperability rules

A doctor sitting at his desk working on a laptop computer.
Proposed rules from ONC and CMS have ramifications for stakeholders across the industry, including payers, providers, vendors, and health information exchanges. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

As welcome news to many healthcare and health IT stakeholders, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it is extending the comment period for two proposed interoperability rules by 30 days.

Healthcare provider organizations and industry groups now have until June 3 to provide feedback on the information blocking rule (PDF) released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and a proposed rule (PDF) from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services focused on interoperability and patient access to data. Both rules dropped back in February. 

CMS officials said the extended deadline gives additional time for the public to review the proposed regulations.

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RELATED: Industry scrambling to digest and respond to proposed 'information blocking' rules

"CMS and ONC understand that both rules include a range of issues having major effects on healthcare. The extension of the public comment deadline will maximize the opportunity for meaningful input and further the overall objective to obtain public input on the proposed provisions to move the healthcare ecosystem in the direction of interoperability," CMS officials said.

In a statement, industry group Premier applauded HHS's decision to extend the comment period deadline. "This is too important to not get right," said Blair Childs, senior vice president of public affairs at Premier.

Many industry groups, including the American Medical Association and the Electronic Health Record Association (EHRA), which represents most of the major EHR vendors, had called for an extension on the rules’ comment periods, noting their complexity.

In letters to both Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma and National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, M.D., last month, AMA president James Madara, M.D., said the proposed rules represent a "true paradigm shift in healthcare."

RELATED: Complying with information blocking rule will be a challenge without standardized APIs: HIMSS

The proposed rules are “interwoven, complex in nature, and include multiple detailed requests for information," Madara wrote. "To ensure that the rules are as successful as possible in meeting your goals, it is vital that stakeholders be given adequate time to provide comprehensive, thoughtful, and detailed comments."

Many providers already have voiced concerns about the cost and burden of complying with the dual interoperability rules, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) officials found after speaking with its members.

“It’s a narrow tightrope the administration is walking here with trying to balance pushing Medicare and Medicaid providers down that path of value-based care and patient access to data without unduly burdening them,” Jeff Coughlin, senior director of federal and state affairs at HIMSS, told reporters during a roundtable conference call last month.

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 application programming interfaces (APIs) to make patient claims and other health information available to patients through third-party applications and developers.

The ONC rule, which was mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, defines exceptions to data blocking and fines that may be associated with the practice. In its proposed rule, ONC is calling on the industry to adopt standardized APIs, specifically FHIR, to help allow individuals to securely and easily access structured electronic health information using smartphone applications.

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