National Health IT Week: Gauging the progress

A look how Congress responded to HIMSS Congressional 'asks' in 2014
By Diana Manos
08:02 AM
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It's almost that time of year again: National Health IT Week.

One tradition of the season involves Healthcare IT News parent company Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society members convening on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to make changes important for the advancement of health IT.

For the past ten years, HIMSS has approached Congress with its annual "asks" during National Health IT Week, slated to take place Oct. 5-10.

Last year, HIMSS asked Congress to help minimize disruption of healthcare to patients and avoid an undue burden on providers by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate, review, make recommendations and publish a new five-year roadmap.

It was not simply because HIMSS asked, but on Sept. 21 the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015–2020. ONC crafted the plan with input from 35 federal agencies and more than 400 public comments, in addition to recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee and stakeholder town halls held throughout 2014.

Regarding HIMSS's 2014 call for increased ONC funding, President Obama's proposed 2015 ONC budget requested $92 million – $32 million above the sum requested in 2015. But in the face of upcoming Congressional battles the budget has yet to be approved.

Last year, HIMSS also asked Congress to focus on expanding the use of telehealth, and several related efforts reflect that, although the House is making more progress than the Senate in this area.

This year, HIMSS is narrowing in on the essence of telehealth's roadblocks: reimbursement. HIMSS is asking Congress to tackle Medicare telehealth reimbursement this year. The House introduced the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015 (H.R.2948) in July, which would make strides in that direction.

This year's request to expand telehealth services comes at a point where technology and the capability of the healthcare community are now able to meet and have great success, according to Tom Leary, HIMSS vice president of government relations.

"Healthcare needs help," said Leary, who explained that HIMSS will expand on last year's asks by keeping this year's asks "front-of-mind and actionable," Leary said. Particularly, HIMSS would like to see Congress ask the Department of Health and Human Services to bring stakeholders together to address cybersecurity to find ways to make cybersecurity scalable for use by either small organizations, such as small physician practices or by large groups, such as large healthcare organizations.

Healthcare can possibly learn from other sectors that have already found ways to make cybersecurity scalable, Leary said. The timing is right on cybersecurity because Congress has been grappling with legislation throughout 2015.

HIMSS plans to first convene its members at the HIMSS Policy Summit, to be held on Oct. 7 at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, DC, to prepare them to present this year's asks to Congress, which in addition to expanding telehealth services for Medi care beneficiaries will include the call to support robust interoperability and health information exchange and support healthcare's efforts to combat cyberthreats.

Leary said HIMSS is responding to the congressional request for more specificity by refining the asks to be more explicit than last year's requests.

Regarding interoperability, HIMSS is asking specifically that Congress drop a 1998 measure that prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from moving forward with finding a solution to the patient identification issue, among other things.

"We need to let healthcare work," Leary added.

See also: 

HIMSS posts 3 Congresssional asks for 2015 

2014: HIMSS goes to Congress, 'asks' in hand