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D.C. Report: Dr. Blumenthal Exits, Health Reform Repeal Efforts, Matching Patients with Data

February 8, 2011
by Sharon Canner
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HIT Coordinator to Leave in April. While it has been rumored for some time, Health Information Technology (HIT) National Coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal’s announced departure took many by surprise nevertheless. Dr. Blumenthal will return to teaching at Harvard Medical School. Appointed by President Obama, Dr. Blumenthal, since March 2009, has guided the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program through rulemaking on meaningful use and certification, awarding of state grants to create health information exchanges (HIEs) and Regional Extension Centers, presided over numerous meetings of the HIT Policy Committee, and has been a frequent presence outside of Washington in dialog with providers and other members of the health IT community. He has served as keynote for several CHIME CIO Forums and was has been very supportive of CHIME’s StateNet, recognizing its important function connecting CIOs with other key stakeholders in the state health IT environment. While there remains much to do on implementation, the EHR Incentive Program is firmly launched, given the work of the past two years.

Health IT and Efforts to Repeal Health Reform. Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the federal health reform law's individual mandate is unconstitutional. While this ruling agrees with other plaintiffs in a multistate lawsuit on the individual mandate, Judge Vinson went a step further by voiding the entire law, because he believes the mandate was "inextricably bound" to other provisions. In addition to individual the mandate, insurance exchanges, expansion of Medicaid and other approaches to improve coverage, the Accountable Care Act (ACA) includes certain health IT provisions. With the potential to enhance quality and help bend the cost curve, ACA includes demonstrations of accountable care organizations (ACOs), new rules to standardize Health insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) transactions, and online enrollment for healthcare and human services programs, for example.

Also on the judicial front, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) announced on Thursday he will seek immediate review by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Virginia’s constitutional challenge to ACA. It is rare for parties to bypass the appellate court and ask for early review by the nation's highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court permits bypassing lower courts for immediate Supreme Court review, but this request is granted only in cases of “such imperative public importance" that it requires changing normal procedures. Supreme Court review is expected, but not in the short term. Meanwhile the legislative track is unfolding. In January, the House voted to repeal ACA (245-189), but the Senate rejected the bill by a vote of 51-47 earlier this week. Efforts to deprive Health and Human Services of funding for implementation are anticipated as part of the budget process.

Matching Patients with their Data Subject of Committee Recommendations. The HIT Policy Committee meeting earlier this week endorsed recommendations from the privacy and security “Tiger Team” workgroup. Proposals focused on standardized formats for data fields; helping patients to access their information and identifying inaccuracies; and identifying and disseminating best practices. The Quality Measures workgroup provided input on quality measures in Stage 2 with the suggestion of reducing the number down to 30 or 40 measures. The Adoption/Certification Workgroup reported on an upcoming hearing on Liability. For the HIT Policy Committee agenda, workgroup presentations and other materials, click here and scroll down to Feb. 2.