Wrap-Up: Health IT Policy Highlights of the 114th Congress

Congress officially adjourned last week after wrapping up final passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through the end of April. Let’s take a quick look back at just a few of the key health IT policy developments during the 114th Congress and how they track with HIMSS policy priorities:

The Cybersecurity Act of 2015: On December 18, 2015, President Obama 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 provisions (Section 405) that directly reflected HIMSS’ 2015 Cybersecurity Congressional Ask.

Introduction of CONNECT for Health Act: In February 2016, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives introduced the Creating Opportunities Now for 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. While the bill didn’t cross the finish line during the lame duck as we’d hoped, we look forward the bill being reintroduced in the next Congress and working to garner support from Senators and Representatives.

HIMSS’ Testimony Before Congress on Cybersecurity: In May 2016, HIMSS testified before the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee in support of the bipartisan HHS Data Protection Act (H.R. 5068) which would establish the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) within HHS and elevate the CISO position to be a peer of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), rather than reporting directly to the CIO as it currently does. This policy of establishing a cybersecurity leader within HHS is also reflected in HIMSS’ 2016 Cybersecurity “Call to Action.”  HIMSS Congressional Affairs staff is in ongoing conversations with the bill sponsors to highlight opportunities to strengthen the bill’s impact by expanding the portfolio of the elevated HHS CISO to include external facing roles.

The 21st Century Cures Act: On December 13th, President Obama signed into law a House-Senate compromise version of the 21st Century Cures Act.  The legislation combines policies from the original House 21st Century Cures Act passed last summer and a number of individual health IT and innovation bills passed by the Senate HELP Committee this year. HIMSS staff worked closely with key House and Senate Committees over the past two years, providing recommendations, technical assistance, education and feedback on specific policies. While health IT is referenced in over 30 sections throughout the bill, key health IT-related provisions address issues including regulation of health IT, interoperability, information blocking, patient access to their health information and patient data matching.  The GAO study on patient data matching called for in the bill closely aligns with a recommendation included in HIMSS’ 2015 Interoperability Congressional Ask.

Patient Data Matching Begins to Gain Traction: In addition to the GAO study referenced above, in July 2016, the House Appropriations Committee passed their FY2017 Labor-HHS spending bill with accompanying report language clarifying that the Unique Patient Identifier prohibition (levied on HHS since 1999) “does not prohibit HHS from examining the issues around patient matching” and encourage HHS to provide technical assistance to private-sector led initiatives to develop a coordinated national strategy for accurate patient identification and matching.  This language marked a recognition by Congress of the need to remove barriers to HHS engaging with the private sector to develop solutions to improve the accuracy and efficiency of patient data matching. HIMSS Congressional Affairs staff will continue to work with our stakeholder partners to educate Members of Congress on the need to advance a nationwide patient data matching strategy.

HIMSS will be releasing Congressional Asks for the new 115th Congress early next year.  Please stay tuned for opportunities to engage with your Senators and Representatives in support of health IT policy priorities.