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Lawmakers Urge Administration to Update Health IT Rules

By Andrew Siddons, CQ Roll Call

March 22, 2016 -- As doctors and patients increasingly rely on electronic health records, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee see a need to update old laws or rules that could hinder the ability of new technologies and systems to communicate.

The complicated federal regulations hinder innovation, according to Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology.

"The sheer number of federal agencies, with often conflicting rules one must navigate to invest in the space, chills investment and entrepreneurship," Hurd said at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday. "The fragmented and bureaucratic system places the patient at the fringe of the process rather than at the center."

Karen DeSalvo, the national coordinator for health IT at the Department of Health and Human Services, said that as a doctor she has had similarly poor experiences navigating health IT systems.

"I have been frustrated by the lack of interoperability, by the usability of the systems and by how hard it can be to select the right system to operate," DeSalvo said.

DeSalvo told lawmakers that it would be helpful for Congress to encourage the states to harmonize their health data, and find ways to prevent information blocking, a practice when some health care providers, for commercial purposes, intentionally make it harder to share information with others.

Other witnesses at the hearing, which was jointly held with members of the Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules, told lawmakers that Congress should consider ways to make it easier for patients to access their health records, and clarify privacy and security requirements.

Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, also urged lawmakers to pass federal data security and breach legislation to discourage bad conduct.

"That would allow us to seek civil penalties to deter unlawful conduct and give us jurisdiction over nonprofit entities," she said.

Other subcommittee members also warned that the need to update older rules shouldn't turn into an excuse to gut regulatory oversight altogether.

"Regulation done wrong or too little regulation makes it difficult to protect the public and make sure that data flows freely," said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. "Regulations done right spurs innovation, improves quality of care, and protects the public."

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