The Senate is slated to vote today on the 21st Century Cures bill passed by the House last week; the legislation includes several healthcare information technology provisions designed to improve electronic health records.

The EHR shortcomings that the legislation seeks to address include burdensome physician documentation requirements and a lack of interoperability, as well as the practice of information blocking; the bill gives the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General the authority to investigate claims of data blocking and assign penalties for practices found to interfere with the lawful sharing of data in EHRs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday repeated his contention that the 21st Century Cures Act is one of the most important bills Congress will pass this year. McConnell was joined on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the health committee, who said the legislation will improve health IT for physicians struggling with over-documentation and “help get the nation’s electronic health record system out of the ditch.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

Sec. 4001 of the 21st Century Cures bill—already passed by the House—calls for reducing the documentation burden on healthcare providers:

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with providers of health services, healthcare suppliers of services, health care payers, health professional societies, health information technology developers, healthcare quality organizations, healthcare accreditation organizations, public health entities, states, and other appropriate entities, shall…establish a goal with respect to the reduction of regulatory or administrative burdens (such as documentation requirements) relating to the use of electronic health records.”

Under this provision, the HHS Secretary will have no more than one year after the date of enactment of the act to develop a strategy and recommendations to meet the documentation goal.

Last week, the House overwhelming passed the legislation in a bipartisan vote of 392 to 26. If the Senate passes the 21st Century Cures bill, as expected, it will then move to the President’s desk for his signature. The Obama administration issued a statement last week saying that it “strongly supports” passage of the legislation.

Also See: House overwhelmingly passes 21st Century Cures Act

Of the bill’s $6.3 billion in biomedical research funding, $4.8 billion will go to the National Institutes of Health including: $1.8 billion for Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot and $1.4 billion for President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

In honor of Biden’s son Beau who died of cancer, McConnell announced on Monday during his speech on the Senate floor that NIH’s cancer initiatives in the bill will be renamed after him. Sec. 1001 of the 21st Century Cures bill now reads: Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot and NIH Innovation Projects. The goal of the initiative is to make a decade’s worth of progress in five years in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

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