Washington Debrief: Congress Passes Government Funding Package

Oct. 3, 2016
Lawmakers passed a government funding package that funds the government through the election and until December 9, 2016.

Health IT Week

Congress Passes Government Funding Package, Now on Recess until after Election

Key Takeaway: Lawmakers passed a government funding package that funds the government through the election and until December 9, 2016.

Why It Matters: While advocates of health IT were busy promoting the value of technology, Congress’ final act before departing to their districts until the election was to pass a government funding package that avoided a government shutdown that would have occurred on September 30th. The package which includes funding for Zika response and preparedness as well as information technology improvements at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Congress set aside $471 million for the VA to modernize its IT systems, but much of the funding is contingent on plan to be shared with Congress, which among other things must discuss interoperability of their electronic health record system with the Department of Defense (DoD) and provide providers.

Congress will need to pass another funding package prior to December 9, when the package passed last week is set to expire.

CHIME Celebrates National Health IT Week with Connected Care Event

Key Takeaway: To commemorate National Health IT Week, CHIME hosted an event on Capitol Hill to examine how technology is connecting patients to their providers in unprecedented ways across the care continuum.

Why It Matters: Health IT has been a popular topic of conversation during 2016 for policymakers and National Health IT Week, the annual celebration and coordinated advocacy campaign aimed at highlighting the importance of health information technology, presented an ideal opportunity to highlight how CIOs and their organizations are leveraging technology to meaningfully improve patient care.

During Tuesday’s event titled, "Connected Care - Leveraging Healthcare Technology to Improve Health at Any Age," board chair Marc Probst, along with fellow trustees Cara Babachicos and Albert Oriol, detailed how technology is facilitating new avenues and opportunities to connect with patients. The CIOs were joined by Cyndi Cahill, managing partner of Pursuit Healthcare Advisors, who outlined some of the challenges of achieving more widespread adoption of such technologies as telehealth and remote monitoring while healthcare is still largely a fee-for-service model.

The event began with remarks from Vindell Washington, M.D., the nation’s chief health IT official. As the national coordinator for health IT, Washington outlined the progress made to date in digitizing the nation’s healthcare system, as well as outlined directives for the Office of the National Coordinator moving forward to ensure that health IT can be leveraged by clinicians and patients alike to improve healthcare quality and facilitate improved outcomes.

The CIOs outlined how telemedicine and mhealth are being used to improve access and outcomes for a variety of patient populations. Other discussions centered around how precision medicine and genomics can speed clinical decision making and avoid unnecessary treatments. They also explored how to expand access to new and innovative technologies by ensuring that foundational elements like data standards and patient identification are in place.

New Health IT Tools and Awards Announced by ONC

Key Takeaway: ONC rolled out several new tools for healthcare providers and announced winners of their blockchain challenge.

Why it Matters: ONC took advantage of Health IT week to showcase several new tools for providers including a new Health IT Playbook and a 56-page EHR Contracting Guide to help providers better negotiate contracts.  The Playbook contains numerous links to various resources including certified EHRs, health information exchange, patient engagement, value-based care, privacy and security, various care settings, and quality and safety.  The playbook also contains a planning guide for EHR vendor selection for long-term care providers under the “care settings” tab. In other news, ONC also announced the winners to their blockchain challenge which can be found her.


GAO Responds to Lawmakers on EHR Cybersecurity Issues, OCR Processes and Enforcement

Key Takeaway: In response to a 2015 request from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publically unveiled a report last week examining cybersecurity issues impacting electronic health records (EHRs) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ability to aid the industry.

Why It Matters: Cybersecurity has been a bipartisan priority for lawmakers during the 114th Congress, but the GAO request sent by Senators Alexander and Murray was the first major indication of Congress’ intent to dig into healthcare cybersecurity.

The report highlighted the challenges of facilitating interoperability, which promises improve healthcare outcomes and reduced cost, while balancing the need to ensure data sharing is secure and patient privacy is adequately protected.

The report found that HHS was limited in the resources provided to industry stakeholders relative to the implementation of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework in healthcare. The findings echoed one of the charges given to the HHS Cybersecurity Task Force created in Section 405 of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, directing the group to recommend resources that are scalable across the industry to improve cyber readiness in healthcare.

GAO highlighted flaws in the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) audits and enforcement actions, saying OCR is inconsistent in follow through to make sure corrective actions had been taken after violations. The report found a lack of information sharing on audit and enforcement activity between OCR and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, specifically relating to the EHR Incentive Program or Meaningful Use program.

At a recent meeting of the President’s Commission on Enhancing Cybersecurity, CHIME made oral comments in support of the need for heightened attention on healthcare as a critical infrastructure highlighting barriers to protecting patient information from cyberattacks including OCR enforcement actions which are considered punitive and hurt an organization’s ability to recover and learn from a breach.