The Senate Appropriations Committee has drafted bill language directing ONC’s Health IT Policy Committee to submit a report on the technical, operational and financial barriers to electronic health records interoperability.

The committee also wants examined the role of EHR certification in advancing or hindering interoperability. A report released in April written by an advisory group put together by Mitre Corporation and funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded that there is a lack of interoperability among data resources for EHRs which is creating a major hurdle to the unfettered exchange of information and development of a robust U.S. health data infrastructure.

The Mitre report also found that the criteria for Stages 1 and 2 "fall short of achieving meaningful use in any practical sense" and that "rational access to EHRs for clinical care and biomedical research does not exist outside the boundaries of individual organizations."

The new report that senators seek from the HIT Policy Committee should address the “extent of the information blocking problem, including an estimate on the number of vendors or eligible hospitals or providers who block information,” states language in the draft Senate bill. “This detailed report should also include a comprehensive strategy on how to address the information blocking issue.”

As the committee points out in its fiscal year 2015 Health and Human Services appropriations bill, ONC is responsible for promoting the use of EHRs in clinical practice and collaborating with the private sector to develop standards for a nationwide interoperable health IT infrastructure. However, Senate appropriators voiced their concerns that closed data networks are creating barriers to interoperability and the exchange of health information.

When it comes to certified EHR technology (CEHRT), the Senate committee argues that “ONC should use its authority to certify only those products that clearly meet current meaningful use program standards and that do not block health information exchange.” Moreover, Senate appropriators recommend, “ONC should take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in CEHRT, and make CEHRT less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use.”

Senate appropriators also are poised to give ONC considerably less funding than what was suggested for 2015. Funding in 2014 was set at $60.325 million and the committee is recommending $61.474 million in 2015, although the budget estimate was $74.688 million.

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