House Removes National Patient Identifier Ban from Appropriations Bill

House Removes National Patient Identifier Ban from Appropriations Bill

This web-exclusive Journal column highlights public policy initiatives at the federal- and state-level that impact the HIM profession, including news on AHIMA’s national and affiliated state advocacy initiatives, Congressional updates, news from federal regulatory agencies, public policy updates from state legislatures, and AHIMA’s public policy initiatives with other organizations.

By Lauren Riplinger, JD


On June 19, the US House of Representatives passed HR 2740, the FY2020 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Included in passage of the bill was an amendment offered by Representative Bill Foster (D-IL 11) and Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA 16) that strikes language in the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that prohibits HHS from spending any federal dollars to promulgate or adopt a national patient identifier. The amendment passed 246 to 178.

“AHIMA is pleased that the House today has taken the first step in repealing an archaic ban that has stifled innovation and industry progress for nearly two decades,” said Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, AHIMA CEO. The narrow interpretation of the struck language that has been included in Labor-HHS bills since FY1999 has effectively halted any meaningful progress related to developing effective patient matching solutions. With clinicians’ ability to accurately connect a patient with their medical record hindered, lives have been lost and medical errors have needlessly occurred. These entirely avoidable situations could have been mitigated had providers been able to correctly identify and match patients with their records. The problem is so dire that one of the nation’s leading patient safety organizations, the ECRI Institute, named patient identification among the top ten threats to patient safety.

The absence of a consistent approach to accurately identifying patients has also resulted in significant costs to hospitals, health systems, physician practices, long-term post-acute care facilities, and other providers, as well as hindered efforts to facilitate health information exchange. According to a 2016 study of healthcare executives, misidentification costs the average healthcare facility $17.4 million per year in denied claims and potential lost revenue. A 2017 study by the American Hospital Association also indicates that 45 percent of large hospitals reported that difficulties in accurately identifying patients across health information technology systems limits health information exchange. More importantly, there are patient safety implications when data is matched to the wrong patient and when essential data is lacking from a patient’s record due to identity issues. The 2016 National Patient Misidentification Report cites that 86 percent of respondents said they have witnessed or know of a medical error that was the result of patient misidentification.

“Accurately identifying patients and matching them to their data is essential to patient safety and care coordination, and it’s a requirement for health system transformation and the continuation of our progress toward enhancing nationwide interoperability,” said Harris. “Removal of this ban will empower HHS to explore a full range of patient matching solutions and enable it to work with the private sector to identify solutions that protect patient privacy and are cost-effective, scalable, and secure.”

Last week, AHIMA led a group of 26 other healthcare organizations in sending a letter to all US Representatives asking them to support the Foster-Kelly Amendment. Additionally, over the last week, many AHIMA members have reached out to their US Representatives via AHIMA’s Advocacy Action Center asking them to support the Foster-Kelly Amendment. AHIMA thanks its members for helping to ensure successful passage of the amendment in the US House of Representatives. Their support is critical to advancing the adoption of a nationwide patient matching solution.

The US Senate is currently working on its own version of the FY2020 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Sign up for future updates as AHIMA’s Policy and Government Relations team work to ensure the Foster-Kelly Amendment is included in the final spending package approved by Congress.

To view how your US Representative voted on the amendment, click here.


Lauren Riplinger ( is vice president of policy and government affairs at AHIMA.

Leave a comment


  1. A link, within the article, to the Foster-Kelly Amendment would have been helpful to understand the specifics of that and how it was written. Thank you!

  2. Do not want National Patient Identifier. If someone codes a record wrong for example: Cancer, Mental illness, etc. The diagnosis could remain over a lifetime! If PT becomes comatosed in another hospital and the wrong information is given, may alter the treatment!

  3. I am concerned by the suggestion that having a National Patient Identifier will avoid the errors attributed to Patient Misidentification. The errors that occur are not the result of the absence of a national identifier, but rather the result of the failure on the part of the providers, at the bedside, to confirm that the medication/treatment is specifically for the patient they are caring for. This confirmation should be performed at each point of care action – verifying the patient identifiers with a minimum of 3 matches required. It is when this work flow is NOT being followed that our patients are harmed and potentially results in a death. I believe that there are more pressing issues to address for patient safety than having a single patient identifier for use throughout the country. What will that help when the providers are not confirming that the patient in front of them should be receiving the treatment being provided?

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