Senate passes 21st Century Cures Act, Obama to sign it into law
The Senate on Wednesday voted 94-5 for final passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, following last week’s overwhelming approval by the House of Representatives. Now, the legislation goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, who has promised to sign it into law.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate prior to the vote, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the health committee, said the 21st Century Cures Act will improve health information technology for physicians and their patients, among other key provisions.
According to Alexander, electronic health records have “been a real burden to doctors” and despite the federal government spending more than $30 billion in provider incentives to adopt EHRs they continue to struggle with the documentation, interoperability and usability of the technology. EHR systems “were in the ditch—this legislation moves them out of the ditch,” he added.
Specifically, Sec. 4001 of the bill seeks to reduce the EHR documentation burden on providers while maintaining quality. In addition, it encourages certification of health IT for specialty providers and sites of service.
“The National Coordinator shall encourage, keep, or recognize, through existing authorities, the voluntary certification of health information technology…for use in medical specialties and sites of service for which no such technology is available or where more technological advancement or integration is needed,” states the bill.
In a written statement, the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) commended the Senate and House for passing the 21st Century Cures Act.
“Current law requires Medicare providers to adopt and use certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT) for a fixed percentage of their patients; unfortunately, no CEHRT is currently available for ASC encounters,” according to ASCA. “As a result, physicians who bring patients to ASCs could face cuts in their professional fees even though meeting the program’s threshold is not possible in the ASC setting. This legislation protects physicians who perform surgery in ASCs and authorizes HHS to approve CEHRT for the ASC setting.”
Robert Horne, executive director of Health IT Now, a coalition of providers, patient advocates, consumers, and payers, applauded the Senate’s passage of the 21st Century Cures Act.
“This bill recognizes health IT as a medium for positive reform in the healthcare system and we look forward to continuing to work together to advance policies that will bolster health IT,” said Horne in a written statement. “The 21st Century Cures Act correctly seeks to provide needed clarity to FDA oversight of software products, and puts forward important reforms to solve issues of electronic health record interoperability that has stymied the flow of health information in the United States.”
Likewise, Joe Ganley, vice president of federal government affairs for vendor McKesson Corporation, praised the legislation for encouraging “greater interoperability among health IT systems by establishing mechanisms for patients to be able to access their EHR electronically and requiring vendors and providers to attest that they are not blocking information exchange.”