Reports: Issues Arise in 21st Century Cures Act; Delay Possible

Oct. 28, 2016
The 21st Century Cures Act could be in danger of not passing this year following a statement from a coalition of liberal groups calling into question the bill’s ability to address high drug prices.

The 21st Century Cures Act could be in danger of not passing this year following a statement from a coalition of liberal groups calling into question the bill’s ability to address high drug prices.

While the drug prices portion of the legislation isn’t of high relevance to the health IT community, if the bill is delayed or sunk completely, the health technology industry would likely be extremely disappointed. Stakeholders have touted the health IT provisions of the bill, particularly regarding FDA’s oversight of the sector, as well as encouraging interoperability of electronic health records (EHRs) and patient access to health data, and discouraging information blocking.  

As reported in Healthcare Informatics’ policy outlook in September, there has been hope that the health IT provisions that became part of the 21st Century Cures Act in the House will make it to President Obama’s desk this fall. As part of that story, Robert Horne, Health IT Now Coalition’s executive director, said, “We encourage the House and Senate to finish their work and get it to the President’s desk. We think it would be a huge, huge mistake to let this opportunity pass.”

But, according to an Oct. 27 report from The Hill, a spokesperson for Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said, the bill “’must include’ policies to address high drug prices, raising questions about whether Republicans would agree to such additions and help pass the bill this year.” The committee of Democrats released the statement after 13 liberal groups, including the Center for American Progress and the AFL-CIO, sent a letter to both chambers Wednesday calling for the bill to be punted to next year, so it can also deal with the hot-button topic of drug prices, The Hill reported.

Moving forward with this legislation now would be a missed opportunity to address unaffordable prescription drug prices,” the letter stated. “There is no justification for moving forward with legislation that provides substantial benefits to the drug industry without asking for something in return.”  The Hill report continued, “Still, the bill has backing from Republican leadership and is getting a strong push from its main sponsor, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).”

Meanwhile, a letter this week from the Charlotte, N.C.-based Premier, Inc., urged Congressional leadership to support the health IT provisions of the legislation.  Their statement read, “Premier is a strong supporter of HIT interoperability provisions that will improve the ability of healthcare providers, patients and researchers too seamlessly and securely access health information across different electronic health record (EHR) systems. In particular, we support having criteria that HIT would have to meet to be considered ‘interoperable’ and standards that set forth the categories for EHR vendors. Certification of EHRs should focus on the overall ability of EHR systems to retrieve and send data for patient care. This includes entity data-sharing programs that do not require vendor-specific interfaces and which are also tested in the real world. We have shared our detailed views with the committees of jurisdiction on HIT and ask that these and other important provisions be included in any final legislation.”

Premier’s statement continued, “Legislation to require greater HIT interoperability is essential to addressing these impediments to better connectivity between providers, smoother care transitions for patients and safer, more efficient delivery of care. For example, the legislation will help facilitate access to data in EHRs that can go into registries, an issue of great concern to physician groups in particular. Patients deserve the highest quality of care from all providers, which only can be achieved when we are able to communicate and coordinate care together.”

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