The 21st Century Cures Act, which would overhaul how innovative medical technologies are regulated by the federal government, made its first step towards legality today when it was unanimously passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The committee passed the bill by a vote of a 51-0. The next step is it will be taken up by the House and if passed there, the Senate. Media reports indicate that it could be on the House floor by the end of June.
The bipartisan bill has been championed by Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette, full committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA). If passed, it would have a significant impact on interoperability of electronic health records and health IT systems.
"This historic day marks a big bipartisan step forward on our path to cures,” said Upton in a statement. “We have all said too many early good-byes to people we love and treasure. Every single person has a common goal: we want more time with those we love. In this, the greatest country in the world, Americans deserve a system second to none. We can and must do better. The time for 21st Century Cures is now.”
The iteration of the bill that passed the Committee would enact penalties to vendors that are not in compliance with interoperability criteria set by a charter healthcare development standards organization. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who authored the bill’s interoperability language, wrote the language that would get rid of Health IT Standards Committee (HITSC) by 2018.
It also includes language on telehealth, calling for State medical boards to come together to create common licensure requirements for providing telehealth services and calls for appropriate expansion of telehealth coverage for Medicare beneficiaries.
This version of the bill has drawn a mixed response from the health IT crowd. Premier Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based company that offers group purchasing, consulting, informatics and advocacy services for hospitals and health systems, was pleased with the bill and its progress.
“Today’s vote is an essential step to optimize HIT investments, improve the quality of care across settings and avoid the cost burdens associated with the work around solutions that are needed today for systems to “talk” to one another. We strongly urge the full House of Representatives to support these interoperability standards and to vote in favor of moving the legislation forward as it stands today,” Blair Childs, Premier’s vice president of public affairs, said in a statement.
However, others are not as psyched about the proposals. John Halamka, M.D., vice chair of the HITSC and CIO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, recently told the committee that the language was “flawed, dangerous and harmful.”
“It does not make sense to officially sanction a ‘charter organization’ and seed it with $10 million, creating yet another player in an already crowded field of groups working on interoperability,” Halamka wrote in a blog post. “I agree that coordinating the standards development organizations makes a lot of sense -- why not just direct ONC to create a permanent Task Force that reports to the HIT Standards Committee, and let ONC support it out of existing resources?”
The American Telemedicine Association was also not happy with the telemedicine language in the proposal. They association said that it hits the “snooze button” on meaningful provisions that would affect telemedicine.