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5 health IT pieces of Congress agenda for 2015

January 06, 2015 | Government Health IT Staff




With Republican majorities poised to take control of the Senate and House of Representatives, the 2015 Congress is expected to address several health IT programs. Although controlling spending and promoting free enterprise remain GOP tenants, the approach by Congress to various health IT issues will vary.

For example, Congress is expected to restrict FDA action in the health IT arena while expanding Medicare payments for telemedicine services, Politicoreported.

Here are some of Congress top action items for this year in no particular order.

1. FDA corrections: Many lawmakers believe the FDA should to take a hands-off approach to health IT to enable innovation to flourish. Congress is expected to consider at least one of two bills — the SOFTWARE Act or the MEDTECH Act — that would loosen FDA’s oversight of some health IT tools — such as clinical decision support software.

2. Telemedicine: Another top agenda item for GOP lawmakers hoping to expand Medicare payments is telemedicine services — which advocates say would reduce overall health costs. Legislation offered by several lawmakers in the last year would expand the service at different rates. The Telehealth Enhancement Act would waive Medicare’s restrictions for home health services, critical access and sole community hospitals, and in some cases, hospice care, home dialysis patients and homebound seniors. The Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, on the other hand, expands coverage of certain services to federally qualified health centers and health clinics in three phases — covering small, medium and larger metropolitan areas.

3. EHR and data interoperability: House and Senate lawmakers added language in the fiscal year 2015 continuing resolution, the so-called Cromnibus spending bill, that requires the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to create a report on “information blocking” by providers and electronic health record developers, and some industry stakeholders are calling on Congress to take further action on interoperability this year.

4. Meaningful Use: No surprise that the EHR incentive program is on Politico’s list. With the raft of industry associations and members of Congress questioning the program’s long-term value and pushing for more flexibility, the pressure is on. Whether the pending 21st Century Cures legislation addresses that or not remains to be seen. And Politico noted that industry observers spot at least some potential for changes, such as shortening the 2015 reporting period or relaxing Stage 2’s “all-or-nothing” requirements, may come as part of Stage 3 later in the year.

5. Privacy and data policies: Many in Congress want to address restrictions on using the wealth of health data to improve research and clinical care by enabling researchers easier access to patient data. A bill such as the Expanding Availability of Medicare Data Act sponsored by incoming House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan, however, could prove difficult to pass because of opposition from privacy advocates.

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