House Votes to Lift HHS Funding Ban on National Patient Identifier

By Jessica Davis

– In its Fiscal Yr 2021 minibus bundle handed this week, the House of Representatives as soon as once more voted to take away a provision that successfully bans offering federal funds to the Division of Well being and Human Companies for the event of a nationwide affected person identifier.

HHS was initially known as on to undertake requirements for a definite, distinctive affected person ID, which might be used to determine the medical information of people, employers, suppliers, and well being plans underneath HIPAA rules. However in 1998, former Congressman Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas launched the funding ban, and it has been written into each Congressional funds proposal since 1999. 

Advocates for a nationwide affected person identifier, comparable to CHIME, argue {that a} distinctive identifier would assist to enhance affected person privateness and affected person security, whereas supporting interoperability. CHIME and 55 different well being teams urged Congress to take away the funding ban or at the least undertake a singular affected person identifier in August 2019. 

In June 2019, House members made the same vote to raise the ban, however the Senate opted not to take away the the funding ban language in its personal draft federal appropriations invoice. Sen. Rand Paul, MD, R-Kentucky, took it a step additional in September 2019, shifting to take away the nationwide affected person identifier language from HIPAA altogether. The perspective was largely rejected.

However in December, Congress directed the Workplace of the National Coordinator to work with personal sector stakeholders to develop a nationwide technique for bettering affected person identification. 

READ MORE: Congress Directs ONC to Support National Patient Identifier Efforts

The most recent effort spearheaded by Reps. Invoice Foster, D-Illinois, and Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, was unanimously adopted by the House. Foster argued that the distinctive affected person identifier would assist in slowing the unfold of COVID-19 and forestall “physician procuring” when it comes to opioids, whereas reducing medical errors and prices. 

“Eradicating this archaic ban is extra necessary than ever as we face the COVID-19 pandemic,” Foster mentioned in a press release. “Our capability to precisely determine sufferers throughout the care continuum is vital to addressing this public well being emergency and eradicating this ban will alleviate tough and avoidable operational points, which can get monetary savings and, most significantly, save lives.” 

HIMSS signaled assist of the modification, launching Patient ID now with different healthcare stakeholders to handle affected person identification although legislative and regulatory advocacy. 

Nonetheless, the American Civil Liberties Union rejected the hassle, citing privateness cocnerns. 

Absent sturdy privateness protections, use of distinctive well being identifiers may empower HHS and probably different federal businesses, together with regulation enforcement, to achieve unprecedented entry to delicate medical data,” ACLU leaders argued. 

READ MORE: Would a Unique Patient Identifier Increase the Risk to Patient Privacy?

“For this motive, it’s vital that any use of distinctive well being identifiers be topic to strict privateness and safety protections, that are authorised by Congress and topic to public debate,” they added. “Traditionally, we’ve got seen examples of insufficient well being privateness rules, underscoring the significance of requiring Congressional approval of well being privateness requirements on this enviornment.” 

The privateness arguments have been beforehand made by ACLU and different teams. However trade stakeholders consider the chance to privateness is not any completely different than that posed by Social Safety numbers, that are tied to a affected person’s monetary data. Thus, a nationwide affected person identifier is seen as an enchancment to privateness. 

“Use of a nationwide identifier as an alternative of SSN ought to reduce the burden of safety breaches as a result of the power to steal an identification is proscribed with out a SSN,” Corinne Smith, a healthcare lawyer with Clark Hill Strasburger, informed amid the Congressional affected person ID discussions in 2019. “I fail to see how use of the nationwide identifier would pose an elevated danger over use of a SSN.” 

“The ban has prohibited efficient conversations,” Leslie Krigstein, vice chairman of Congressional Affairs for CHIME, informed throughout the identical timeframe. “How can we’ve got a dialogue if we’re prohibiting HHS from coming to the desk with how they want to determine sufferers? Or work with personal partnerships to transfer ahead on this? With out HHS on the desk, we’re not going to see any change.” 

The Senate would be the subsequent deciding issue on lifting the HHS funding ban from the appropriations invoice, scheduled for subsequent month.

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