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Washington Debrief: Senators Press HHS for Details on MU Hardship Plan

March 10, 2014
by Jeff Smith, Senior Director of Federal Affairs
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Jeff Smith, Senior Director of Federal Affairs

Top News

Senate Letter Presses for Expanded MU Hardship Exception Details

Key Takeaway: Six senators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding plans to expand Meaningful Use hardship exceptions, asking for details of the expanded criteria in lieu of an extension to the 2014 timeline for Meaningful Use.

Why it Matters: While far from being a political football, congressional scrutiny continues to mount over federal management of health IT policies. Criticism from Congress over health IT policy will likely gain steam heading into spring and summer as lawmakers fill hearing dockets.

Last week Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) sent a letter to the Secretary regarding HHS’ announcement to expand Meaningful Use hardship exceptions, demanding details of the expanded criteria in lieu of an extension to the 2014 timeline for Meaningful Use.

The Senators behind the "Reboot Report" last April have continued to stay engaged in the Meaningful Use conversation. Their original report called for a pause in the program to evaluate Stage 1 and apply lessons learned toward further stages.

After meeting with industry stakeholders, they released a letter signed by 17 Senators calling for an extension to the attestation deadlines in 2014 (for hospitals and providers in Stage 1 or Stage 2) because of the burden of adopting 2014 edition certified EHR technology.

Recognizing the competing priorities of ICD-10, Meaningful Use and other healthcare programs in 2014, these Senators are seeking details about the relief promised to hospitals and providers through the expansion of the hardship exceptions criteria to confirm that this action is sufficient to keep the MU program healthy.

Administration

FCC Launches New Healthcare Initiative

Key Takeaway: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is renewing efforts to ensure that healthcare technology is broadly deployed using high-speed, reliable Internet services.

Why it Matters: A new task force, called CONNECT2HEALTH, will identify regulatory barriers and incentives to build more robust telehealth, mhealth and telemedicine deployments in rural, remote and underserved inner cities.

In an announcement made last week, newly anointed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a new initiative and a point person to lead the effort. Michele Ellison will serve as the Chair of the Task Force called CONNECT2HEALTH. The role of the task force will be to “leverage all available technologies to ensure that advanced healthcare solutions are readily accessible to all Americans, from rural and remote areas to underserved inner cities,” the Commission said.

The task force is expected to collaborate with the FCC’s Director of Health Care Initiatives and the Chiefs of the Wireline and Wireless Bureaus and Office of Engineering and Technology.

Legislation and Politics

House Reps Call for More Attention to Health Disparities, Standards for Data Collection

Key Takeaway: House Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) have taken the lead on a letter to CMS and ONC asking them to address health disparities using health information technology. Specifically, the group calls on CMS and ONC to use the Meaningful Use program to better capture information about different health conditions in EHRs to improve outcomes.

Why it Matters: Stage 3 Meaningful Use policies will be under review for the next several months. Part of the discussion surrounding Stage 3 will likely include a conversation about how to include public health and occupational health data elements. CIOs should investigate how additional demographic fields, including disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity may be gathered during care visits.

In a time of competing priorities, House lawmakers hope to draw attention to health disparities in underserved communities to ensure health equity. According to a joint statement, Rep. Mark Takano said, “We must use all the tools available to achieve health equity in our country. The only way to eliminate health disparities is to fully understand the scope of the problems faced by individuals and communities, especially LGBT people. Breakthroughs in health information technology and improved data collection in the ‘meaningful use’ guidelines can be a powerful tool to improve healthcare for all Americans, and I urge the ONC to make the constructive changes we have identified.”

The Representatives ask CMS and ONC to improve data collection, improve data use, improve health literacy and communication, and improve access to health information and healthcare. The lawmakers believe these measures will improve outcomes in underserved communities across the country.

CHIME News

Save the Date for the CHIME Second Annual Public Policy Forum

Make plans to attend the CHIME Second Annual Public Policy Forum being held on Wednesday, April 30 from 12:00 – 2:00 PM in Washington DC. CHIME President and CEO, Russ Branzell, along with four CHIME members active in the public policy arena, will be presenting on the topic of Progressing Toward Better Outcomes: Patient generated health data, quality measurement and the next phase of healthcare transformation.

You may RSVP here or contact Angela Morris for more information.


The Health IT Summits gather 250+ healthcare leaders in cities across the U.S. to present important new insights, collaborate on ideas, and to have a little fun - Find a Summit Near You!


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