Congress Eases Ban on Patient Identifier Development in Spending Package

After years of advocacy by AHIMA, lawmakers, and other stakeholder groups, Congress recently took steps moving the nation toward a more comprehensive way to accurately match patients to their health information.

On May 5th, Congress passed a federal spending bill that included language that will relax the ban on the Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts around unique patient identifiers (UPIs). For almost 20 years, a provision of annual appropriations bills has forbidden HHS, including the Office of the National Coordinator, from policy discussions concerning the development of UPIs due to fears among lawmakers that doing so would violate patient privacy.

The spending bill, otherwise known as the omnibus spending bill, funds the federal government through September 30th. According to Lauren Riplinger, JD, AHIMA’s senior director of federal relations, if you look at the text of the omnibus spending bill, it still contains the prohibitory language—and not the language AHIMA supports. That text can be found, however, in the Appropriations committee report, which is on page 110.

“The one thing that I think a lot of the articles overlook is that the committee report language only holds for FY17, so if we want to have it remain in the bill for subsequent years we have to request that the appropriators include it each year,” Riplinger said.

She noted that AHIMA has also taken action to ensure that Congress will continue to fund critical health IT initiatives that were advanced last year with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. The US House of Representatives’ and Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) are currently drafting an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 (FY2018).

ONC has already acted on this approval from Congress by launching the Patient Matching Algorithm Challenge to spur innovation in electronic health record (HER) interoperability and patient identity matching.

The spending bill also included funds to programs AHIMA supports, including $320 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative and a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health.

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

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