Obama Signs Federal Spending Package With Health IT Implications

December 17, 2014 in News

On Tuesday, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion continuing resolution omnibus spending bill, or “cromnibus,” that funds the federal government for the next nine months, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Kuhnhenn, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/16).

The Senate approved the bill Saturday after the House passed it last Thursday (Parker/Pear, New York Times, 12/13).

Cromnibus’ ONC Provisions

The federal spending package allocates about $60 million for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. ONC’s budget will be the same as it received in fiscal year 2014, but less than the $75 million requested (iHealthBeat, 12/12).

In addition, the package includes language directing ONC to decertify electronic health record systems that prevent the electronic exchange of health information. The new law states, “ONC should take steps to decertify products that proactively block the sharing of information because those practices frustrate congressional intent, devalue taxpayer investments in (certified EHR technology) and make CEHRT less valuable and more burdensome for eligible hospitals and eligible providers to use.”

Under the package, ONC is required to submit a plan within 90 days of enactment by Congress detailing the health data sharing problem, including an estimate of the number of vendors or eligible hospitals and professionals who block information and a plan for addressing the issue (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 12/16).

Further, the law instructs ONC’s Health IT Policy Committee to submit a report on the challenges and barriers to interoperability within 12 months of enactment to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and other appropriate authorizing committees. The package states, “The report should cover the technical, operational and financial barriers to interoperability, the role of certification in advancing or hindering interoperability across various providers, as well as any other barriers identified by the Policy Committee” (Walsh, Clinical Innovation Technology, 12/16).

Cromnibus’ Other Health IT Provisions

The package also has implications for military health IT and rural health IT efforts.

For example, it requires the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to submit reports to Congress on their progress in updating their EHR systems. The package provides VA with nearly $4 billion for IT, including funding for the development of a standard data reference terminology model. The law also gives VA the flexibility to designate up to $123 million in funds allocated for “Medical Services” and “Medical Support and Compliance” to enhance its VistA EHR system and interoperability.

However, it prohibits VA from spending more than 25% of those allocated funds until it reports on its plan to achieve interoperability with DOD’s health systems.

Under the package, DOD also only will be able to spend 25% of the funding allocated to its Defense Health Program until it reports on its plan to achieve interoperability with VA’s health system, including the implementation timeline and cost estimate of its new EHR system.

In addition, the package allocates $14.9 million to the Health Resources and Services Administration to help small, rural hospitals adopt health IT. HRSA also is receiving an additional $1 million to fund telehealth.

Meanwhile, the spending package also includes $10.3 million for the Department of Agriculture to fund broadband transmission in rural areas for telehealth and distance learning programs.

Further, it grants CDC the authority to build a cloud-based platform to collect and disseminate public health data to ease reporting burdens for state public health departments (iHealthBeat, 12/12).

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