House amendment strikes down unique patient identifier funding ban

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The House of Representatives this week adopted an amendment to overturn a 20-year prohibition on using federal funding for a unique patient identifier.

The intent of the amendment is to address the widespread problem of misidentification. Correctly identifying patients and accurately matching their electronic health records as they are shared across healthcare organizations continues to be a major challenge for the industry—misidentification has resulted in medical errors and deaths, industry experts contend.

Current law inserted into every budget passed by Congress since 1999 has prevented the Department of Health and Human Services from spending funds on a unique patient identifier to help solve the problem.

However, the Foster-Kelly amendment to H.R. 2740, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020, would eliminate Section 510 of the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that prohibits HHS from spending any federal dollars on a unique patient identifier.

“This bipartisan amendment offered by myself and Mr. Kelly of Pennsylvania would strike Section 510, which bans HHS from adopting standards for a unique patient identifier that would allow patients to be uniquely identified across electronic health record systems,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.).

According to Foster, this “misguided” prohibition has resulted in thousands of Americans dying “due to getting the wrong drug to the wrong patient or due to incorrect or incomplete electronic medical records, all arising from the inability to simply and correctly merge health records from different systems.”

Also See: Imprivata comment letter renews call for unique patient identifiers

While the House voted 246 to 178 in favor of the amendment, it still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump.

Wylecia Wiggs Harris, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association, praised the House passage of the amendment as a first step towards “repealing an archaic ban that has stifled innovation and industry progress for nearly two decades.”

Harris added that the “removal of this ban will empower HHS to explore a full range of patient matching solutions and enable it to work with the private sector to identify solutions that protect patient privacy and are cost-effective, scalable and secure.”

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