Healthcare Reform Update: Congress Continues Efforts to Reach Healthcare Reform Compromise

February 5, 2010

Congressional Affairs

House to Take Up One Piece of Health Care Reform
In the face of stalled efforts to work out a compromise with the Senate on comprehensive healthcare reform, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) plans to have the House vote next week on stand-alone legislation to remove anti-trust exemptions from the health insurance industry, which many Democrats believe will lead to greater price competition. The House version of the reform bill passed last year would remove the anti-trust exemption, but the Senate's version would not.

Following the President’s instruction to Congress to not give up on healthcare reform, House and Senate Democratic leaders continue to explore approaches for passing legislation. Both Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have expressed their determination to continue to press for comprehensive healthcare reform.

HHS Secretary Discusses President’s Budget With Congress
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress on the HHS components of the President’s FY11 budget, meeting with the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.  A key health IT portion of her written testimony reads, “The Budget advances the President’s health IT initiative by accelerating health IT adoption and electronic health records (EHRs) utilization – essential tools for modernizing the health care system. The Budget includes $78 million, an increase of $17 million, for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to continue its current efforts as the Federal health IT leader and coordinator. During FY 2011, HHS will also begin providing an estimated $25 billion over 10 years of Recovery Act Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to physicians and hospitals who demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHRs, which will improve the reporting of clinical quality measures and promote health care quality, efficiency, and patient safety.”

House Passes Cybersecurity Legislation
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4061, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2009, by a margin of 422-5.  The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) with nine bi-partisan co-sponsors, applies to agencies participating in the National High Performance Computing Program (which promotes high level computer performance in federal agencies). Key provisions include triennial cybersecurity reviews, with reports to Congress and yearly updates. The bill also directs the National Science Foundation to fund grants to post-doctoral scientists and engineers to pursue cybersecurity research, and strengthens the role of NIST in enforcing security standards for federal systems.

In regards to health IT, the legislation calls for the Director of NIST to establish a program to support the development of technical standards, metrology, testbeds, and conformance criteria, taking into account appropriate user concerns, to—

(1) improve interoperability among identity management technologies;
(2) strengthen authentication methods of identity management systems;
(3) improve privacy protection in identity management systems, including health information technology systems, through authentication and security protocols; and
(4) improve the usability of identity management systems.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

Save the Date for the HIMSS 9th Annual Policy Summit!
With the continuing emphasis on the role of information technology in healthcare transformation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it’s more important than ever to become better educated on health IT policy and engage with your elected officials. The HIMSS 9th Annual Policy Summit will be held June 16-17, 2010, in Washington, DC.  Registration will open later this month.

Federal Affairs

President Sends FY2011 Budget Request to Congress
The Obama Administration released the President’s Budget Request for federal fiscal year 2011 (October 1, 2010-September 30, 2011) on Monday, February 1, 2010.  The budget includes a spending freeze of $23 billion across the federal government, but calls for funding ONC at $78 million in fiscal year 2011, which is a $17 million increase over their fiscal year 2010 budget.  HIMSS is completing an overview of health IT related activities for HHS in the new budget, which will shortly be posted on the HIMSS Federal Affairs website.  The document will evolve as we review information from other agencies.

CDC Releases Report on Ambulatory EHR Adoption
Last week, the CDC released a report on the adoption of electronic health records amongst ambulatory care providers. The data was collected as part of the 2008 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

The survey concluded that 16.7 percent of physicians reported having systems that met the criteria of a basic EHR system, and about 4.4 percent reported having a fully functional system. A 2009 preliminary study showed the numbers are estimated to jump to 20.5 percent for basic and 6.3 percent for fully functional.

On January 26, National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. David Blumenthal blogged that “the numbers suggest that the pace of adoption of HIT is quickening. We expect that the federal government’s health IT strategy will accelerate the pace even further by systematically addressing the obstacles physicians experience in adopting health IT.”

NIST hosts budget hearing for Stakeholders
The National Institute of Standards and Technology will hold a budget briefing for stakeholders at the Department of Commerce (Herbert Hoover Building, 14th & Constitution Avenues NW, Room 4830) on February 19 at 11:00 am. NIST Director, Dr. Patrick Gallagher, will brief constituents and take questions on the Administration’s FY2011 Budget Request for NIST, and HIMSS has learned that key issues impacting HIT stakeholders will be discussed.

AHRQ Unveils a new Comparative Effectiveness Grants Webpage
As the President continues to focus on Comparative Effectiveness Research, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has unveiled a new website designed to be a one stop shop for all information on AHRQ’s various Comparative Effectiveness Research projects and available grants.