McCarthy Quits Race for House Speaker

On October 8, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew his name from consideration for the Speaker of the House of Representatives moments before House Republicans were expected to formally nominate him. Retiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will remain speaker until the House votes to elect a new speaker but who that person will be remains unclear.  Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is widely seen as the only consensus favorite. Although he issued a statement immediately after McCarthy’s announcement taking himself out of consideration, he has come under immense pressure from his fellow Republicans, including his former presidential running mate Mitt Romney, to assume the position.  If Ryan declines, the field is wide open.  

CMS Issues Stage 3 Meaningful Use Final Rule

On October 6, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a final rule with comment period for the Electronic Health Records (“EHR”) Incentive Programs. The rule offers a 90-day reporting period in 2015 for all providers, modifies summary of care requirements and decreases the number of patients that must use the patient portal from five percent to at least one patient.

The rule also requires that all participants of the EHR Incentive Programs meet Stage 3 of meaningful use by 2018. CMS indicated that it seeks comments on Stage 3 provisions through a 60-day comment period regarding the transition to the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System. A companion rule released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology finalizes the new criteria for certifying and implementing EHR technologies.

Senators Release Legislation to Improve Health Information Technology Systems

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bipartisan bill on October 6 to increase transparency and accountability in electronic health records systems. The Transparent Ratings on Usability and Security to Transform Information Technology (“TRUST IT”) Act of 2015 (S. 2141) would set up a health information technology (“IT”) rating program that would allow consumers to compare different products based on their performance.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a series of six hearings this year on electronic health records to discuss strategies to reduce unnecessary physician documentation, improve health IT system certification standards and security and increase patient and provider access to health records. Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) pushed the committee to consider ways to make it easier for providers to shop for electronic health record products and leave underperforming systems.

The TRUST IT Act would establish a rating system using an open stakeholder input process that would hold health information systems accountable for their performance in security, usability and interoperability. The bill would also create a process for collecting and authenticating feedback from providers and patients on the products and from health IT vendors on users’ practices that might decrease systems’ interoperability. Health IT vendors would be required to report their products’ performance every two years or face a fine for failing to report.

Additionally, the bill allows the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to publicly release information describing how certified health IT systems meet certification requirements, requires health IT products to incorporate user-centered designs and meet specific security standards and enables the Department of Health and Human Services to penalize entities that have been found to block information sharing across health care teams.

Health-Related Bills Introduced This Week

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) introduced a bill (H.R. 3681) to expand the Medicaid emergency psychiatric demonstration project. The Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act would extend the length of the demonstration project to three years and provide an option for expansion to additional states.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Protecting Medicare Beneficiaries Act (S. 2148) to prevent a rate increase in Medicare Part B premiums for beneficiaries in 2016. The legislation would extend the 2015 premium and deductible rates through 2016 for all enrollees. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced a companion bill (H.R. 3696) in the House.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced a bill (S. 2173) to improve seniors’ access to mental health services under the Medicare program. The Improving Access to Mental Health Act of 2015 would create a new payment structure that would align Medicare reimbursements for clinical social workers with that of other non-physician health care providers. The legislation would also ensure that beneficiaries have access to the full range of mental health assessment and intervention services under Medicare.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) introduced legislation (H.R. 3718) to curb waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The bill would update anti-fraud prevention systems and improve data sharing about potential fraudulent activities between the two programs.

Next Week in Congress

The House and Senate will be out of session next week but return for legislative business on October 19.