Aspects of 21st Century Cures Act Require Cooperation from New HHS Secretary

Some elements of the 21st Century Cures Act are considered by some in the health IT community to be hard to implement, while other provisions face uncertainty with a new administration. Acting National Coordinator for Health IT Jon White, MD addressed both issues recently at joint meeting of the Health IT Policy and Standards Committees, over a week ago, and the at an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) town hall meeting this week on Monday at the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference.

One sticking point for members of the Health IT Policy and Standards Committees relates to the information blocking parts of the law. Sections 4002 and 4004 levels penalties as high as $1 million to vendors or entities that engage in information blocking, which can include activities such as: “preventing or materially discouraging access, exchanging or using of electronic health information.”

Micky Tripathi, president and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, finds that definition too broad and worries that the penalties are too punitive. He argued, according to Health Data Management, that an entity could have a legitimate reason—such as an electronic health record (EHR) transition—to deny a requester access to data.

“In those cases, the Cures Act gives them an opening to complain to regulators about them—it’s just really ill-considered to introduce at this time,” Tripathi said, according to Health Data Management.

During a presentation at the HIMSS conference, White reiterated that ONC is committed to implementing the Cures Act, but many of the law’s provisions require action from the new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

For example, in the part of the Cures Act that deals with information blocking, it requires the HHS Secretary to “identify reasonable and necessary activities that do not constitute information blocking.” And in the case of data sharing for research purposes, the law requires the Secretary “to issue guidance clarifying circumstances under which the authorization for the use or disclosure of protected health information for future research purposes contains a sufficient description of the purpose of the use or disclosure.”

“That kind of stuff we’ve got to get worked out,” White said, according to Health Data Management. “We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got that executive sponsorship from the new political leadership to move ahead.”

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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