Legislation aims to strengthen healthcare IT, patient privacy

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Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. Source: Washington Post  

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has released a discussion draft of proposed healthcare IT legislation, designed to provide a roadmap for effectively promoting healthcare IT and strengthening privacy protections for patients.

The proposal was drafted in cooperation with Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; Frank Pallone, Jr., chairman of the Subcommittee on Health; and Nathan Deal, D-Ga., ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health.

"Although shifting from paper to electronic health records would greatly benefit patients and healthcare providers, we currently lack the infrastructure to make this much-needed transition work," said Dingell. "The provisions included in this proposal will encourage faster adoption of health information technology while also ensuring that patients' health information is protected. It was developed with strong bipartisan cooperation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to craft legislation that can be moved swiftly through the Committee."

Provisions of the draft bill, which contains ideas from at least five House bills introduced during the last two congressional sessions, include proposals to:

  • Subject business associates directly to the safeguards in the HIPAA privacy and security bills and hold business associates directly accountable to the federal government for violations of minimum contract requirements.
  • Close a HIPAA loophole that permits disclosure of protected health information for “treatment alternatives.”
  • Require regional health information organizations and health information exchanges (HIEs) to have business associate contracts under the privacy rule.
  • Require personal health record vendors who store the records in one place to notify consumers of data breaches.
  • Codify the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT), making the position permanent.
  • Establish two federal advisory committees to prioritize and develop technical data standards.
  • Establish and fund a health IT resource center.
  • Establish grant programs and support state-based IT loans to promote provider IT adoption and support local and regional HIE initiatives.

The discussion draft does not specify funding levels.

Pallone said that the widespread adoption of health IT can help make the U.S. healthcare system more efficient by reducing costs and improving quality. "As we move towards greater reliance on electronic records for health data, we also need to be more vigilant in protecting those records, which are the most sensitive of all our personal information,” Pallone added.

Text of the 89-page discussion draft is available here.