AHIMA is joining other patient identifier advocates in supporting language in an early draft of a House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations bill that allows the Department of Health and Human Services to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives.

Lynne Thomas Gordon, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association, wrote in a statement that “correctly identifying patients is a critical component of patient safety as well as important for health information exchange.”

She urged Congress to draft language in the appropriations bill that supports a solution to making critical health information available when needed.

Since 1999, Congress has prohibited HHS from using funds to establish a unique patient identifier, as a result of pressure from privacy advocates. The ban has been specifically inserted into each appropriations bill since then, and the current bill contains the same prohibition on HHS spending public funds to develop an identifier.

But for Fiscal Year 2017, Congress may be giving HHS room to work on private efforts to develop an identifier. In the bill, the committee acknowledges that lack of a consistent patient data matching strategy presents challenges to the safe and secure exchange of electronic health information, particularly with the HITECH Act’s mandate to adopt electronic health records to facilitate data exchange.

The appropriations process is still in continuing, and it’s not sure whether the language authorizing development of a national patient identifying strategy will remain in the bill that’s eventually passed by the House and Senate. The language banning HHS from spending public money on a national identifier is also is in the Senate appropriations bill, but the Senate does not include language matching the House’s bill.

“By allowing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives on this issue, we believe important gains can be made,” Gordon wrote. “Health information exchange is essential for making our healthcare system safe and efficient.”

The most pertinent language on the unique patient identifier is on page 108 of the appropriations bill, available here.

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