AHIMA fears HHS budget cuts could hamstring ONC

With congressional lawmakers working on the fiscal 2018 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Health Information Management Association is demanding adequate funding for the 21st Century Cures Act.

In a letter to the House Appropriations, Labor, HHS and Education subcommittees, AHIMA is asking for sufficient funding to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to meet its obligations under the Cures Act. The law contains several initiatives important to AHIMA, which represents medical records departments and other health information management professionals.

In March, President Trump released his preliminary, or “skinny” budget for Fiscal Year 2018, a document that provided only top-level numbers, and it proposed a 17.9 percent decrease in HHS funding. In May, the Trump Administration will issue a more comprehensive budget, but the big HHS funding drop in the preliminary budget alarms AHIMA and other organizations.

“The purpose of the letter is a pre-emptive strike to let Congress know the skinny budget showed significant forthcoming cuts,” says Lauren Riplinger, senior director of federal relations at AHIMA.

Lauren Riplinger

Any funding cuts won’t directly affect AHIMA, but the organization sees HHS and ONC as vested partners for improved interoperability and fears the drive to better sharing of health information will get sidetracked.

ONC offers interoperability education programs to a variety of stakeholders across the nation, including health information management professionals, Riplinger notes.

In the letter to lawmakers, AHIMA emphasizes the importance of adequate funding for the agency. “ONC’s role in convening the Health IT Advisory Committee to identify, review and recommend standards and implementation specifications (as required by the Cures Act), is critical not only to advancing a core set of common data elements that will enhance the capture, use and exchange of structured electronic health information, but in advancing overall nationwide interoperability.”

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Without ONC’s ability to convene interested parties to build and support the exchange framework, those efforts will languish and hinder nationwide interoperability, AHIMA tells lawmakers.

“ONC has served (and we hope will continue to serve) as an important federal partner in not only assisting both patients and providers in understanding a patient’s right of access under HIPAA but also in disseminating best practices for fulfilling patient access requests for their health information.”

Failure to adequately fund ONC will undermine a major tenet of the Cures Act itself, “the delivery of new drugs and devices to the right patient at the right time by ensuring electronic health record systems are interoperable for seamless patient care, and to fully realize the benefits of a learning healthcare system,” the association warned.

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