Senator Leading 21st Century Cures Act Debate Speaks at AHIMA Hill Day

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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks at AHIMA’s Hill Day event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

Creating a more interoperable healthcare system is one of the priorities of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee and a speaker at AHIMA’s Hill Day event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

Alexander hailed the work of health information management (HIM) professionals in his remarks, which kicked off a day of Congressional visits by about 200 AHIMA members. “The work you are doing is enormously important; there’s never been a more exciting time and a better opportunity to help patients,” Alexander said.

His remarks preceded a critical HELP committee hearing today. The committee will discuss five bipartisan bills that advance health IT interoperability and other issues included in the 21st Century Cures Act, which encourages faster medical research and innovation, as well as a federal precision medicine initiative.

In his comments on Tuesday, Alexander said he has studied health IT issues, talking with experts from Vanderbilt University and the Mayo Clinic. He said he also visited the Center for Medical Interoperability, an organization of health systems “trying to solve the problem of making the system one everybody can plug into,” he said.

He noted that the federal precision medicine initiative “wouldn’t be worth very much if it weren’t connected to an interoperable medical record system.”

Alexander also said he learned that doctors are tired of excessive documentation, which they said took time away from their practice. As a result, Alexander said, he envisions “a record system that is interoperable and works easily for physicians.”

Alexander says he wants to “create an environment where most of these issues can be settled in the private sector.” It’s also important to ensure “we’re not writing rules that are so specific that we are not allowing flexibility” and creating a system that might make it difficult for a future technology to make things simpler.

As lawmakers, he said, “there are things we can do in our legislation that would encourage interoperability.” These include creating regulations that could cut down on physician documentation time; encouraging a health IT ratings system for purchasers; discouraging information blocking; giving local networks interoperability tools; and clarifying patients’ rights to access records.

The 21st Century Cures Act passed the US House of Representatives last year but has stalled in the Senate. As chairman of the HELP committee, Alexander has been moving the legislation forward piece by piece in separate bills. Modern Healthcare  reports that 13 bills have been approved by the committee, and more will be debated today.

In his remarks to AHIMA members, Alexander said he wanted current efforts on this issue “to be bipartisan and important.”

“We’re working with the administration to encourage movement, and I’m optimistic that we’ll have some success,” he said. Later on Tuesday he told The Hill  that a medical innovation bill that would be a companion to 21st Century Cures could be ready for the Senate floor as early as next week.

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