ARRA Updates – Week of May 17

May is a busy month for the health IT provisions in ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or “stimulus bill”). Federal groups scrambled to meet a number of deadlines last week.

The Health IT Policy Committee met May 11, just several days after its full membership was announced. ONC head David Blumenthal wanted the group to meet before the Health IT Standards Committee held its first meeting at the end of that week, per its deadline. ARRA intends the policy group to set direction and the standards group to identify the technology standards that support it.

The policy committee formed three work groups: meaningful use, certification and adoption (which will include work force and infrastructure issues), and information exchange. The group intentionally did not form a privacy and security group, intending instead that privacy and security issues permeate the other topics.

The creation of the policy committee makes the future of the National eHealth Collaborative uncertain. NeHC, the successor to the health IT advisory body the American Health Information Community, had just a few meetings under its belt when ARRA was signed into law.

The Health IT Standards Committee formed three subgroups of its own at its May 15 meeting: clinical operations (including e-prescribing), clinical quality (including quality reporting), and privacy and security.

It appears that the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel will continue to have a role in standards harmonization under the new arrangements. HITSP chair John Halamka cochairs the new standards committee. He announced that HITSP is reviewing its existing work against the possible needs of the new policy and standards groups.

The Department of Health and Human Services posted its agency-wide ARRA plan over the weekend. The plan pulls together an overview of HHS’s responsibilities under the act.

ONC’s implementation plan appears within the HHS report. ONC’s plan is heavy on deadlines and light on strategy, which is not surprising given the tight schedule and the large number of program details still undetermined.

Look for HHH’s draft description of the health IT extension program today or tomorrow. It’s expected to appear in the Federal Register by mid-week. The announcement will describe the program goals, the regional extension centers, application procedures, eligibility criteria, and maximum support levels.

Way back in late April the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics held hearings on defining the “meaningful use” of health IT, a key piece of the ARRA provision to encourage adoption of health IT through incentive payments. At the time, NCVHS announced it would post a summary of the comments to its Web site in mid-May.

Finally, public comments are due Thursday on HHS’s guidelines for rendering protected health information unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals. Those guidelines are necessary for the two breach notification rules due from HHS and the Federal Trade Commission by August.

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