HIMSS sees path forward for IT policies in the age of Trump

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While the policy talk among attendees at February's HIMSS 2017 in Orlando may have been focused on the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s future, HIMSS’ own policy team was spotlighting opportunities to advance its legislative and regulatory wish list under a new Congress and President Donald Trump.

Tom Leary, HIMSS vice president of government affairs, told HealthExec that injecting the organization into the ACA debate would be akin to “swimming outside of our lane.” He believed health IT policies would stay above more partisan fights and could be a part of whatever legislation comes from the repeal-and-replace efforts on the ACA.

“What’s been really invigorating for us is the discussions with agencies, with folks on Capitol Hill and across the states. [It] is a unique opportunity and [health IT] is in a unique environment,” Leary said. “We absolutely continue to be a bipartisan issue.”

The first priority for HIMSS in this new administration is following up on the 21st Century Cures Act, which was passed and signed into law during the presidential transition period. The law contains several health IT-friendly provisions meant to advance interoperability of electronic health records and put an end to data blocking, including $4.8 billion in funding for the precision medicine initiative.

With a new administration, however, Leary expected certain timelines in the law to “slip,” like creating “innovation plans” at NIH. He cautioned that some delay shouldn’t scare the IT industry, be seen as a sign of “disinterest” or a change in attitude from the federal government.

Leary said HIMSS’ broad strategies in federal policy for 2017 include “supporting healthcare transformation,” achieving the goals of the organization’s cybersecurity “call to action,” and increasing the number of qualified and certified cybersecurity professionals in healthcare.

As far as legislative priorities go, Leary predicted the Connect for Health Act, which aimed to expand the use of telehealth services in Medicare and Medicaid, will be reintroduced during the current Congress.

On the regulatory side, HIMSS North America’s director of federal affairs, Eli Fleet, shared Leary’s optimism that agencies like HHS will want telehealth initiatives advanced under the Trump administration, particularly how CMS pays for it.

Trump has also made deregulation a priority, signing an executive order declaring two existing regulations would be eliminated for every newly enacted one. When asked by HealthExec if HIMSS had some suggestions for rules which could disappear, Fleet said it’s waiting to see how HHS Secretary Tom Price implements that order.

“I don’t think HIMSS has identified or has focused on ‘Here’s something that should be gotten rid of,’” he said.

Companies and individuals in the HIMSS membership are taking a similar wait-and-see approach with the Trump administration’s regulatory promises overall.

“They want to make sure that health IT can be used as a mechanism for better patient care,” Fleet said.