A Year in Review: Update on the 2015 HIMSS Congressional Asks

A year after the 2015 HIMSS Congressional Asks were unveiled during National Health IT Week 2015, a number of important developments have occurred. Across all policy priorities included in the Asks, HIMSS has engaged with relevant Committees and Member offices to provide subject matter expertise and technical assistance, data, education and/or assistance with building support for specific legislation.

Ask 1#: Support Robust Interoperability and Health Information Exchange

Over the past year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held six hearings on a range of health IT topics as part of the development of the Senate companion to the House 21st Century Cures Act.  The hearings addressed issues including patient access to their information, interoperability, EHR user experience, and information blocking.  HIMSS staff was called on multiple times to provide background and expert guidance to Committee staff as they explored these complex issues.

The result of this process was the introduction of the Improving Health Information Technology Act (S. 2511) which the Committee voted unanimously to advance on February 9, 2016. The bill seeks to improve the quality of patient care through health information technology (IT), from increasing interoperability and information sharing of electronic health records to promoting improvements of existing health IT capabilities and infrastructure.  Specific provisions touch on a number of priority areas raised in our 2015 Ask as well as recommendations issued through a multi-stakeholder effort co-led by HIMSS and the Sequoia Project.

The HIMSS Congressional Affairs team continues to work with HELP Committee and Member staff to ensure that any legislation aimed at improving interoperability supports the ongoing progress being made by private sector-led initiatives.  While the timing for passage of a reconciled 21st Century Cures Act in the House and Senate remains in question, it is clear that interoperability of health IT systems to support innovations in medical treatments and care delivery will continue to be a significant area of focus for Congress in to the future.

Ask #2: Support Healthcare’s Efforts to Combat Cyber Threats

The biggest development in the past year came on December 18, 2015, when the President signed into law the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 as part of the FY2016 omnibus spending package. The bill, focused on enhancing cyber threat information sharing between the public and private sectors, contained healthcare-specific language (section 405) that directly reflected HIMSS’ 2015 Congressional Ask #2.

Among other provisions, the legislation created a healthcare industry cybersecurity task force to analyze challenges and barriers to the health sector and develop a plan for creating a single information sharing pipeline of actionable cyber threat intelligence from the government to healthcare organizations. It also called for the creation of voluntary, consensus-based, and industry-led guidelines, best practices, and procedures that could serve as a resource for healthcare organization to reduce cybersecurity risks and improve safeguards. To date, the Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force has held two in-person meetings and a number of conference calls, and the full report from the task force is expected sometime in early 2017.

HIMSS continues to serve as a leader on healthcare cybersecurity on Capitol Hill.  In 2016 alone, members and staff have been called on to testify before the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, serve on a panel to educate Senate staff on ransomware, leverage the HIMSS Foundation Institute for e-Health Policy to co-host a House briefing on cybersecurity, and provide feedback to numerous congressional offices on a range of cyber policy issue.

Ask #3: Expand Access to Telehealth Services for Medicare Beneficiaries
On February 4th, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives introduced the Creating Opportunities Now and Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act (H.R. 4442 and S. 2484 in the House and Senate, respectively). HIMSS was heavily involved in the drafting of the comprehensive legislation, which contains many of the components of our 2015 Telehealth Congressional Ask. Currently there are 32 sponsors on the House bill and 15 sponsors on the Senate bill.

The bill makes a number of changes to the Medicare program that would greatly expanding the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) services by removing certain barriers to telehealth found in Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act. Specifically, the CONNECT for Health Act would create a “bridge” program to help providers transition to the goals of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) through the use of telehealth and RPM, and allow qualifying participants in alternative payment models to use telehealth and RPM, without the application of restrictions found in Section 1834(m).  In addition, the bill would permit the use of RPM for certain patients with chronic conditions and allow telehealth and RPM to be basic benefits in Medicare Advantage, among other things.

The HIMSS Congressional Affairs team continues to actively engaged with the key Committees and Member offices working on these issues.  Stay tuned for new Congressional Asks for the incoming 115th Congress in January 2017!