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New House Appropriations Committee Bill Offers Hope for Patient Matching Solution

July 13, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Language from the most recent House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill offers some clarity regarding the restrictions on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use federal funds on a national patient identifier.

The text of the bill, for Fiscal Year 2017, says, “Although the Committee continues to carry a prohibition against HHS using funds to promulgate or adopt any final standard providing for the assignment of a unique health identifier for an individual until such activity is authorized, the Committee notes that this limitation does not prohibit HHS from examining the issues around patient matching. Accordingly, the Committee encourages the Secretary, acting through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and CMS, to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy that will promote patient safety by accurately identifying patients to their health information.”

This new language expects to be received somewhat positively by providers, and the private sector as a whole, which has long pushed for a universal patient identifying solution. However, since 1999, the federal government has been prohibited from spending public funds on the development of a national patient identifier. When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law in 1996, it originally required that all Americans be issued a unique patient identifier based on the obvious potential benefits they could bring to healthcare regarding patient safety. However, after a 1998 federal hearing caused a public outcry due to invasion of privacy claims, Congress prohibited the use of federal dollars to create such a solution.

The ban has been in place ever since, though recent efforts from the private sector have offered some hope. Earlier this year, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) announced the launch of a National Patient ID Challenge, a $1 million crowdsourcing competition to incentivize the private sector to develop a fail-safe patient identifying solution that links patients to their medical records. Last month, during the competition’s Concept Blitz Round, 113 innovators from around the world submitted entries ranging from the use of quantum physics to multi-faceted biometric technologies as methods for ensuring accurate patient identification. CHIME named two winners; the challenge now moves into the Final Innovation Round, which is open until November 10.

Following the appropriations report language from the House Appropriations Committee, CHIME released a statement saying, “While we continue to believe that the ban should be lifted, we applaud the House Appropriations Committee for clarifying the limitations this restriction places on HHS and for encouraging the department to work with the private sector on developing a national patient identification and patient matching strategy.”

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