OPM adds Blue Button to federal employee health plans

By Mary Mosquera
01:10 PM

Millions of federal employees, retirees and their families will soon have access to Blue Button to download their personal health data from the websites of their health plans.

The Office of Personnel Management has asked all health insurance carriers participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) to add Blue Button functionality to personal health record systems (PHRs) on their websites, according to a Jan. 18 OPM announcement.

FEHBP insurers that don't already offer Blue Button functionality must notify OPM by March 15 of their plans, the agency said in a Dec. 19 letter to the carriers.

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Currently, veterans, Tricare military members and Medicare beneficiaries can use Blue Button through their federal patient portals. Its availability is growing in the private sector.

Blue Button lets patients view, download to a computer or PHR and use their personal health data by clicking the "Blue Button" on a secure Internet site. Patients can share their data with their physicians or family members or make it available if emergency treatment is needed. 

Blue Button downloads are delivered in simple ASCII text files that can be downloaded, read, stored and printed on any computer without special software. Patients can also authorize use of a Blue Button transfer of their medical data from a treating physician to another medical provider. 

Essentially all federal employee health plans offer PHRs and other health IT tools to their members, or 97 percent of plans representing 98 percent of enrollees, according to an OPM report last fall. About three quarters of the carriers already include medical claims or health record information in PHR data.

"Adding Blue Button will make these records more readable, more accessible, and more useful to patients and families,” said OPM Director John Berry. Blue Button offers easy access to lab results, medication and problem lists, allergies, appointment data and wellness reminders.

OPM administers health benefit programs for the civilian sector of the federal government, including all executive agencies, members of Congress and their staffs, and the federal judiciary. More than 200 separate health insurers in the FEHBP deliver health benefits to more than eight million employees, retirees and family members.