June 4, 2021
Only What Matters In Health Information Policy
Shhh... do you hear that? It is the relative quiet that comes from Congress being out of town. Even the 90-decibel chorus of the 17-year cicadas cannot disturb the peace that comes after so much partisan bickering. It is a good week for Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to get started as CMS Administrator -- when you start a job that is responsible for the healthcare of 150 million Americans and $1 trillion in federal spending -- a little quiet is good.
Some quiet news for you:
The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has been busy -- it outlined five changes to how race and demographic data are recorded to ensure there is no racism and structural biases encoded into datasets. ONC just received $80M to expand training programs in public health informatics at minority-serving institutions. ONC also released a data brief finding that 90% of hospitals have the certified EHR technology patients need to view, download and transmit their health information electronically, but only 3 out of every 4 hospitals have enabled the tech function. It is a good thing that President Biden’s budget proposal includes a significant increase in funding for the ONC -- they all could use a merit bonus over there.
One Thoughtful Paragraph
One of the reasons why we can hear the cicadas instead of Members of Congress is because they gave up trying to agree on an important new bill: the United States Innovation and Competition Act (the USICA). It should be one of those things that any American from any political party can agree on -- we need to have a plan to compete with geopolitical and economic force that is China. So many Senate committees hashed out bipartisan agreements to form the proposed legislation -- a 1,400-page how-to-compete-with-China-and-win manual -- which includes major investments in American innovation, combining numerous technology, cybersecurity, and economic proposals. The interesting part for health tech is the “Endless Frontier Act” (absorbed by this bigger package) which would create a new branch of the National Science Foundation (NSF) called the Directorate for Technology and Innovation (DTI). Unfortunately, according to an analysis from Niskanen Center, this portion of the bill was eliminated. As opposed to DTI being a well-funded, internally independent research organization, its primary function would be choosing grant recipients with significant oversight from NSF and only a small fund devoted to research. Hard to know what will and will not stick given the barrage of amendments filed by both sides of the aisle, but we hope that a final legislative package will allow the private sector to work with institutions of higher learning and develop a workforce pipeline so American technology innovation is leading the world, not following.