ONC says it can't support EHR reporting program

Due to the Trump administration’s budget cuts for the ONC, the agency won’t be able to meet the requirement set out in the 21st Century Cures Act, officials told a Senate committee.
By Jessica Davis
04:16 PM
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James Cannatti, Senior Counselor For Health Information Technology, testifies at a congressional hearing Tuesday. Photo via senate.gov

[Editor's note: In the original report we misattributed a statement. The below is corrected. We regret the error.]

In his opening testimony today to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions, the Department of Health and Human Services Office Inspector General Senior Counsel James Cannatti vowed to crack down on health information blocking.

Deputy National Coordinator For Health Information Technology Jon White, MD, did not say when or how information blocking will be defined by the agency -- or how it would enforce the rule once it clarifies what that means to providers.

"We aim to leverage our new authorities to change behaviors in the industry," Cannatti said. “OIG has been working on enforcement when it comes to info blocking, which can best be accomplished with clear rules of the law, and targeted enforcement for those who choose to break it.”

Under the Cures Act, info blocking between providers can be punishable up to a $1 million fine for each time it occurs. Further, HHS is instructed to define this practice, while outlining activities that may not be considered info blocking.

These definitions are crucial to the health IT sector.

[Also: Coalition publishes CDS software design guidelines for a post-21st Century Cures Act landscape]

After the initial testimonies, Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, again pressed Cannatti and White:

“The Cures Acts requires that ONC define info blocking and what constitutes info blocking, but there’s been no rulemaking, why?”

Cannatti explained OIG was working closely with ONC, which is tasked with rulemaking and deferred to White, who said his counsel told him not to report on rulemaking in progress.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, took it a step further: “Where’s the rule that says you don’t have to tell us when you’ll have a rule on that? Why don’t you go back to the council and ask them why we can’t know when you’re going to start?”

OIG and ONC have been part of over a dozen meetings with health IT stakeholders to develop these rules but has offered no timeline to the industry on when it will provide that necessary guidance. Both organizations have continued to hold meetings with industry leaders to make some progress using its authority gained from the Cures Act.

White said they are still holding staff meetings and will speak to counsel for an answer.

Further, it appears Trump’s budget proposal that slashed the ONC’s budget by one-third has claimed its first victim: White told the committee that it won’t be able to meet the EHR reporting program requirement outlined in the Cures Act.

“Under the current budget, we’re expecting to meet all requirements, except the EHR reporting program,” said White.

The Cures Act requires HHS to establish an EHR reporting program that will measure a product’s security, usability and interoperability -- among other elements. The requirement would help providers to select the right EHR for their organization.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com