FY 2018 Omnibus Bill Gives ONC, OCR, and HHS Needed Boosts

The $1.3 trillion FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by the President last week allocated funding for several key health IT priorities and continued current funding levels for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

The FY 2018 funding bill keeps ONC’s budget at $60 million for the rest of the year, which contrasts with the White House’s proposed budget that would have cut the already modest budget to $38 million. AHIMA has advocated for Congress to fund ONC at a rate appropriate to adequately meet statutory obligations under the 21st Century Cures Act. The omnibus bill also exceeds the White House’s requested $33 million budget for the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) by keeping funding levels at $38.7 million.

Healthcare advocates have also been concerned with the White House’s proposal to fold the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) into the National Institutes for Health, but the funding bill instead allocated $334 million for the rest of 2018, a $10 million (three percent) increase over the FY17 level.

Patient Matching and Privacy

Although Congress still passed a bill with statutory language that prohibits the use of funds “to promulgate or adopt a final standard providing for… the assignment of a unique health identifier,” it does ask the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to study the issue. The bill contains report language that calls upon CMS to issue a report no less than 12 months after the date of enactment of the bill on the impact on care improvement, reduction in costs, estimated saved lives or reduction in errors, and improvements in patient safety if hospitals were required to use a patient matching system as a requirement for participation in the Medicare program.

In another win for health information management (HIM) professionals, the bill also encourages the Secretary of HHS to study approaches to improve person-centered healthcare through patient access to health information, including examination of accurate and timely record matching so that all EHR systems are collecting the information necessary for a fully interoperable system that protects patients from identity mismatch errors, as well as also considers patient privacy and security.

The funding bill also addressed Senate bill S 1850, Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act, which seeks to align the 42 CFR Part 2 regulation with HIPAA for purposes of treatment, payment, and healthcare operations. AHIMA members advocated for this during this year’s Advocacy Summit on Capitol Hill. The final spending bill, however, funds instead S 581, Jessie’s Law, which requires HHS to develop best practices that would allow hospitals and clinicians to access substance use disorder information within the medical record of a patient who has provided such information to the clinician. AHIMA plans to continue advocating for S 1850 and/or HR 3545.

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

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