HHS releases proposed e-prescribing regulations

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The Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 4 will publish in the Federal Register its proposed rule that will support electronic prescribing for Medicare when the prescription drug benefit takes effect in January 2006.
   
The proposed e-prescribing regulations will adopt standards for: transactions between prescribers and dispensers for new prescriptions, prescription refill request and response, prescription change request and response, prescription cancellation request and response, and related messaging and administrative transactions; eligibility and benefits inquires and responses between drug prescribers and prescription drug plans; eligibility and benefits inquiries and responses between dispensers and Part D sponsors; formulary and benefit coverage information, including information on the availability of lower cost, therapeutically appropriate alternative drugs, if certain characteristics are met.
   
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed to make the compliance date for the standards Jan. 1, 2006, so they will be ready for immediate use when the Medicare drug benefit begins. Additional electronic information can be used in conjunction with these foundation standards, to provide more support for using drugs safely and effectively.
   
The proposed regulations, which are available for public comment, are an important part of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 8, 2003. As part of the MMA, Medicare will require drug plans participating in the new prescription drug benefit to support electronic prescribing but it will be voluntary for physicians and pharmacies.
   
E-prescribing enables a physician to transmit a prescription electronically to the patient's choice of pharmacy. It also enables physicians and pharmacies to obtain from drug plans information about the patient's eligibility and medication history.
   
Having access to this information at the point of care makes writing, filling and receiving prescriptions quicker and easier, and it also makes it possible for physicians and pharmacies to make informed decisions about appropriate and lower-cost therapeutically-equivalent alternative medications.
   
E-prescribing can improve patient safety and reduce avoidable health care costs by decreasing prescription errors due to hard-to-read physician handwriting and by automating the process of checking for drug interactions and allergies. E-prescribing can also help make sure that patients and health professionals have the best and latest medical information at hand when they make important decisions about choosing medicines, and enabling beneficiaries to get the most benefits at the lowest cost.