Posted in Policy

Budget cuts, delays imperil ONC responsibilities under Cures Act

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
Budget cuts, delays imperil ONC responsibilities under Cures Act

Severe proposed budget cuts to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and delays in rulemaking could derail the federal agency’s mandate to advance healthcare interoperability.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions, federal health officials answered questions about ONC’s priorities for the coming year and how it will meet requirements spelled out in the 21st Century Cures Act, bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Obama in December 2016, the last full month of his second term.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office Inspector General Senior Counsel James Cannatti told the committee that ONC was committed to preventing information blocking by healthcare providers. However, as Healthcare IT News Senior Editor Jessica Davis writes, Cannatti “outright refused to clarify when or how information blocking will be defined by the agency -- or how it would enforce the rule once it clarifies what that means to providers.”

The 21st Century Cures Act calls for fines of up to $1 million for providers found guilty of blocking information. But the law requires HHS to lay out rules defining what constitutes information blocking.

“The Cures Acts requires that ONC define info blocking and what constitutes info blocking, but there’s been no rulemaking,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana) said to Cannatti. “Why?”

Cannatti declined to respond, insisting that “his counsel told him not to report on rulemaking in progress,” Davis wrote.

Later in the session, Deputy National Coordinator Jon White told the Senate panel that ONC isn’t going to meet requirements for the EHR reporting program mandated under the Cures Act to measure a system’s interoperability, usability, and security.

“Under the current budget, we’re expecting to meet all requirements, except the EHR reporting program,” said White.

A bill proposed by the House Rules Committee in mid-August slashes ONC funding to $38 million, 37 percent below last year’s budget of $60 million.