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Washington Debrief: OIG Identifies MU, Interoperability as Top Management Challenges

November 24, 2014
by Jeff Smith, Vice President of Public Policy at CHIME
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Top News

HHS Watchdog Identifies MU, Interoperability as Top Management Challenges

Key Takeaway: The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report last week identifying “the meaningful and secure exchange and use of electronic health information” among the Top Management Challenges facing the department for the near future.

Why it Matters: This yearly OIG report looks at management and performance challenges for HHS, and this is the first year that meaningful use participation and interoperability have made the list. It is an important acknowledgement from HHS’s watchdog that the program is not as stable as some would believe and that increased visibility by HHS leadership is needed to attain the promise of IT in healthcare.

This year’s list of HHS Top Management Challenges (TMCs) was published by the OIG last week, identifying 10 areas on which the Department needs to focus, including managing health insurance marketplaces, expanding oversight of Medicaid fraud, waste and abuse protections, and ensuring food and drug safety. “These challenges reflect continuing vulnerabilities that OIG has identified for HHS over recent years, as well as new and emerging issues that HHS will face in the coming year,” the OIG said. Historically, OIG has identified privacy/security and program integrity concerns related to information technology; however, this year the “meaningful and secure exchange and use of electronic health information” received its own category as a challenge for the department.

Specifically, the OIG says that while participation in meaningful use has led to widespread adoption of EHRs among eligible providers, “significant challenges exist with respect to overseeing the EHR Incentive Programs, achieving interoperability of EHRs, and keeping sensitive health information secure.” It acknowledges that program interest has been high among hospitals and physicians, but “recent data suggest that not all those currently participating will continue in the programs.” It cites dropouts from program participants in 2012 and 2013, concluding that, “If the number of program participants were to decrease, fewer eligible professionals, eligible hospitals and CAHs would progress to Stage 2 meaningful use, which includes a focus on health information exchange,” thus hurting momentum towards interoperability. “Additionally, as the Department works to link payments with care quality, health outcomes or performance as part of health care delivery system reforms, it will need to ensure that EHR and other health information data are accurate and reliable and are protected from misuse.”

It concludes by saying, “As the Department progresses through the development and implementation of meaningful use stages, it should continue to consider feedback from stakeholders to ensure that adopted policies advance the nation towards the Department's stated goals, while appropriately reflecting the changing health IT landscape.”

Legislation & Politics

Health-focused Committees will see New Leadership in 114th Congress

Key Takeaway: The 114th Congress will bring new faces and new agendas to the House committees with jurisdiction over healthcare, as new committee leaders take over.

Why It Matters: Both Republicans and Democrats will welcome new leadership as long-time health champions will retire their posts at the end of 2014, including Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee; and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Chair Emeritus of the Energy & Commerce Committee.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), former vice presidential candidate, will take over the reins of the Ways & Means Committee with the start of the 114th Congress, edging out the current Health Subcommittee chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), for the committee’s top spot.