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Health IT Now Again Calls for Refocus of ONC’s Oversight Authority

June 1, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Health IT Now Coalition has once again written a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Tom Price, M.D., urging the federal agency to promote interoperability, reduce regulatory barriers, and refocus the role of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

Health IT Now (HITN) is a diverse coalition of healthcare providers, patient advocates, consumers, employers, and payers who support the adoption and use of health IT. In its May 31 letter to Sec. Price, they wrote that as Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and the 21st Century Cures Act get implemented, it encourages HHS to keep the following goals in mind and perform the below actions:

  • Implement interoperability requirements in a way that maximizes data sharing and private sector standards;
  • Prevent information blocking as counter to patient safety and interoperability;
  • Refocus ONC’s role as a coordinator and facilitator of information technology, rather than a heavy-handed regulator;
  • Rescind the ONC Enhanced Oversight and Accountability final rule and conduct a thorough review of ONC’s role in the marketplace;
  • Limit the ONC certification program to verification of functionality necessary to perform measures required for participation in MACRA payment models; and
  • Prioritize implementation of virtual groups as mandated by MACRA.

This isn’t the first time the Coalition has made such recommendations and requests, particularly regarding ONC’s role moving forward. In March, it wrote a letter to Congress and the administration to work with stakeholders to “clarify what role and to what extent ONC should play in the overall regulation of health information technology, and how such a role would interact with other regulatory agencies.”

And last fall,  when ONC issued a final rule that updated the ONC Health IT Certification Program by setting up a regulatory framework for the agency to directly review certified health IT products and giving itself more direct oversight of health IT testing labs, Health IT Now Coalition executive director Robert Horne said in a statement, ONC “is clearly overstepping its statutory authority by moving forward with direct review of uncertified functionalities and products, in addition to certified products.”

In its most recent letter, the Coalition reiterated its sentiments about ONC. It said, “Recent actions taken by ONC not only overstep statutory authority, but show dedication to mission creep rather than the core directive from Congress: achieve interoperability and do so quickly. Specifically, we are concerned with the potential impact of the ONC Enhanced Oversight and Accountability final rule. We believe that provisions of this final rule are duplicative and unnecessarily burdensome and seek to extend ONC’s regulatory authority to the entire marketplace, rather than just products used by participants in the Meaningful Use program…We urge HHS to immediately rescind the ONC Enhanced Oversight and Accountability final rule and conduct a thorough review of ONC’s role in the marketplace.”

Overall, in its correspondence to Price, Health IT Now noted the new administration’s “fantastic opportunity” to “incent the uptake and use of health IT that makes providers’ lives easier and better patient outcomes through more accessible information.”

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