U.S. Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Health Information Blocking

July 29, 2015 08:35 AMOn Thursday, July 23, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee convened a hearing titled, “Achieving the Promise of Health Information Technology: Information Blocking and Potential Solutions.” The hearing focused on the practice of deliberate information blocking by providers and vendors as a barrier to the adoption of health information technology.

“Information blocking could loosely be defined as something or someone intentionally interfering with access to my personal electronic health information,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the committee. “It might be physicians and hospitals blocking patient information from being shared with competing physicians and hospitals to keep patients. Or it might be electronic health records vendors blocking information so they can increase their market share.”

Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) said that while there are some legitimate reasons for withholding patient information, she is concerned about the practice of deliberate information blocking, saying it is “completely unacceptable” and that it “threatens to get in the way of progress we need to make to continue to improve our healthcare system.”

“When patients and providers have more convenient access to better health information, they are more equipped to make truly life-changing or even life-saving decisions,” Murray said.

Possible solutions proposed by witnesses to address the issue of information blocking included more focus on highlighting and defining the issue, greater clarity with regards to the expectations for electronic health records in facilitating interoperability, and expanded use of value-based payment models.

Thursday’s hearing was part of a series of HELP Committee hearings specifically addressing the topic of improving health information technology. Chairman Alexander previously said the Committee hopes to identify “five of six” proposals improving the adoption of electronic health records to include in the 21st Century Cures Act later this year (see previous NAHC Report article here).

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) in June (see previous NAHC Report article here). While the Senate has not yet released a companion version of the legislation, it plans to do so in the coming months. Alexander has stated that he is seeking modifications to improve the legislation, such as changes to electronic health records.

Alexander indicated that the Senate version of the legislation may not be released until near the end of the year, but that he is optimistic about the bill’s chances. “With the kind of support it has now, and that I expect it to have at the end of the year, I fully expect it to be the kind of legislation that could be considered by Congress even in an election year,” said Alexander, according to the Washington Examiner.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) supports efforts to remove barriers to and provide assistance for the adoption of health information technology. NAHC believes Congress should work with the Administration to provide financial incentives for home care and hospice providers to adopt and use electronic health records. As the Senate develops the 21st Century Cures legislation, NAHC will provide recommendations based on its stated legislative priorities and carefully monitor any developments.

For more information about the hearing, including the list of witnesses and the testimony, please click here.