House overwhelmingly passes 21st Century Cures Act

The House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed by a bipartisan vote of 392-26 the 21st Century Cures Act, including several health information technology measures meant to facilitate greater interoperability.

Next stop for the House-passed bill is the Senate, where the 21st Century Cures Act is expected to pass easily.

The Obama administration has also indicated that it “strongly supports” passage of the legislation, which includes “strong protections for individuals’ health data, as well as provisions preventing unnecessary restrictions on the sharing of health information technology data with patients and providers.”

“I’m particularly happy that the House Amendment H.R. 34 includes multiple provisions that will make meaningful progress toward achieving an interoperable health system,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who argued in a speech on the floor of the House that in an increasingly electronic healthcare system, “interoperability is critical to achieving the promises of the 21st Century Cures and scaling up the benefits of health reform more broadly.”

The Cancer Moonshot and Precision Medicine Initiative, two high-profile programs funded by the 21st Century Cures Act ($1.8 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively), depend on the ability to harness the vast amounts of data within electronic health records, which is critical to improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

The problem, Burgess said, is that despite the widespread adoption of EHRs by providers “our nation continues to maintain a fragmented system, making it difficult to ensure continuity of evidence-based care for patients.”

The 21st Century Cures Act will “expedite the interoperability” of EHRs and “finally set us on a path towards achieving a nationwide interoperable health system that puts the needs of patients and puts the needs of providers first,” he added.

Also See: House to vote today on 21st Century Cures bill

Burgess noted that Section 4003 of the legislation combines and reforms the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s existing HIT Policy and Standards Advisory Committees to create a “streamlined” HIT Advisory Committee that is directed to prioritize interoperability and give preference to “utilizing the existing standards of implementation rather than recreating them.”

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, applauded the health IT provisions in 21st Century Cures Act.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, reflects the growing need to develop a standards-based information exchange infrastructure,” said Branzell. “If we are going to improve information exchange and interoperability, we need to begin the hard work of finalizing a set of standards that will help providers share patient information in a seamless manner.”

When it comes to electronic health information blocking, Section 4004 of the bill establishes authority for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General to investigate claims of data blocking and assign penalties for practices found to be interfering with the lawful sharing of EHRs.

“Enforcement mechanisms will arm the Office of the Inspector General with the authority necessary to punish bad actors for improperly impeding the flow of information,” added Burgess. “Data blocking will stop.”

Last year, ONC sent a report to Congress outlining the problem of information blocking. The agency’s report to lawmakers concluded that some providers and vendors have created technical, legal and business barriers between their EHR systems and other systems to interfere with access to information and that this interference with data exchange is negatively impacting patient care.

Section 4007 of the 21st Century Cures Act directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study assessing the current state of patient matching and determine what steps HHS needs to take to better ensure that patients are linked to their records.

CHIME is especially encouraged that in a number of sections the bill addresses the critical issues of accurately identifying patients and matching them to their health records,” said Branzell. “The absence of national solutions for patient identification and patient matching not only pose serious risks to patient safety, but also lead resources being wasted on cleaning up duplicative medical records, as well as creating other inefficiencies.”

The head of the American Medical Informatics Association, Douglas Fridsma, MD, also weighed in on the strong vote to pass the Cures legislation.

“AMIA welcomes passage of Cures legislation by the House Wednesday meant to provide much-needed funds for the National Institutes of Health and Food & Drug Administration to continue work on Precision Medicine, the Cancer Moonshot and BRAIN Initiatives,” Fridsma said. “It is critical that the 115th Congress fund these efforts, as established in this legislation, so that progress to deliver new cures and improve treatments can continue for the life of this legislation.

“We also welcome several important provisions meant to improve health IT and the digital environment in which clinicians treat patients. Many important recommendations outlined in AMIA’s EHR 2020 Task Force Report are represented in this legislation, including goals to reduce clinical documentation burden and improve patient access to their information in a computable format.”

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