When it comes to the practice of medicine and drug discovery, the federal government plays a role in supporting these sectors and developing legislation that opens up avenues for healthcare professionals and scientific researchers. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has gone forward with creating legislation called 21st Century Cures that delves directly into stimulating the discovery and development of new treatments and medications for patients across the nation. The legislation also impacts the expansion of EHR interoperability.
While the intentions of the 21st Century Cures legislation is beneficial for drug discovery, the American Hospital Association (AHA) finds that the enforcement strategies under the proposed rules could have negative consequences for providers, particularly in its aim to expand EHR interoperability.
AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack stated in a letter to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that, which the organization appreciates the inclusion of EHR interoperability expansion, the “enforcement mechanisms” could lead to issues for healthcare providers such as putting together an ecosystem in which doctors may be significantly penalized for minor errors.
AHA does support health information exchange and EHR interoperability in pursuit of improving patient outcomes and incorporating new models of care. Nonetheless, AHA finds some issues with the enforcement related to vendors participating in information blocking problematic.
“The bill includes a number of enforcement mechanisms against those who engage in information blocking,” wrote AHA Executive Vice President Rick Pollack in the letter. “On the provider side, we believe that the use of Medicare fraud and abuse mechanisms, such as investigations by the Office of the Inspector General, imposition of civil monetary penalties or exclusion from the Medicare program, is unnecessary and inappropriate to address the concerns that the legislation seeks to remedy. We recommend that you use the existing structures of the meaningful use program to promote information sharing.”
On behalf of AHA, Pollack mentions that the organization appreciates the committee’s aim to ensure EHR vendors are responsible for creating interoperable health IT products. However, Pollack also stated that the committee should instruct the Federal Trade Commission to analyze any anti-competitive behavior among EHR vendors. In particular, Pollack finds the decertification of EHR systems among vendors that participated in information blocking objectionable, as it would affect healthcare providers and disrupt patient care.
“The language also includes decertification as a sanction for vendors that engage in information blocking. Decertification would be disruptive to hospitals and physicians that have invested in and deployed an EHR that is later decertified,” Pollack explained. “However, the inclusion of provider protections against meaningful use penalties if their EHR is decertified makes it more reasonable.”
The protections against payment penalties under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs would last for more than one year, which would give providers ample time to find a new vendor, develop a suitable contract, install another EHR system, and attest to relevant meaningful use requirements.
Additionally, AHA would like the definition of information blocking to become narrower in order to avoid charges of fraud to be dealt due to standard business practices. Essentially, AHA would like to reduce some of the punitive approaches the committee set forth and develop more positive approaches to expanding health information exchange.