Stark health IT bill gives ONCHIT more authority

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Stark’s bill could force more adoption of EHRs. Image Source: American Progress

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., introduced legislation Tuesday outlining the federal government's role in the national adoption of EHR systems and the development of a national health information network (NHIN).

The Health-e Information Technology Act would also make the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT) a permanent position with significant new authority to manage the development, routine updating and dissemination “of an open-source health information technology system that is either new or based on an open-source health information technology system such as VistA.” VistA is the Veterans Administration's EHR.

ONCHIT also would have authority to impose a "nominal" fee for adoption of the open-source system by providers, according to the legislation.

Under the bill, when recommending data standards and guidance covering health information systems, ONCHIT would incorporate the functionality criteria of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT), “to the maximum extent appropriate.”

The legislation also authorizes ONCHIT, in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to develop a program for the voluntary certification and periodic recertification of health information systems—which is what CCHIT does.

Other provisions of the bill authorize grants, loans and Medicare incentive payments to encourage IT adoption; require an examination of the definition of "healthcare operations" to determine what activities need patient consent; and increase civil penalties for violations of the HIPAA privacy rule.

Stark, chair of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, has said that his patience with the industry to adopt interoperable IT systems is gone.

"If we want a uniform, interoperable healthcare system in America, time has shown us that we can't depend on the private sector to do it on their own," Stark said. "This is the perfect role for government. We should work with stakeholders to develop the standards, ensure an affordable product is available and pay providers to adopt it. That's exactly what the Health-e Information Technology Act does."