HIMSS Senior Director of Congressional Affairs broke down how the massive spending bill will boost telehealth, Medicaid and other crucial health IT.
Congressional leaders passed the spending bill last night, after a 5-hour government shutdown. Senate passed the spending bill around 1:45 a.m. with a 71-28 vote, while the House pushed through the legislation at about 5:30 this morning with a 240-186 vote.
The shutdown was caused by a one-man protest by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who opposed adding another $320 billion to the federal budget deficit. Indeed the massive spending bill adds hundreds of billions of dollars for the military, disaster relief and domestic programs.
While budget appropriators will have until Mar. 23 to determine how to specifically dole out the funding, there are a lot of wins for healthcare, according to Samantha Burch, senior director of congressional affairs for HIMSS.
The bipartisan agreement will raise the budget cap to allow the total budget allocation for defense, non-defense and non-discretionary items, which is “a big win for HIMSS priorities,” Burch said. Those caps will not only help federal agencies with military needs, but it will support health needs and threats for the country.
One of the biggest gains from the budget was the inclusion of the CHRONIC Care Act, which unanimously passed the Senate in September. HIMSS provided technical feedback on for developing the bill, which Burch said is aimed at modernizing Medicare to streamline care coordination and improve outcomes.
Not only will the bill expand telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries, it will also generate patient data on those beneficiaries.
“We’ve been huge supporters of the CHRONIC care act,” said Burch. “Getting that bill over the finish line is an important first step. There’s all of this momentum around health IT on Capitol Hill, but it’s been incredibly hard to get bills across the finish line and signed into law.”
“This is really the first time that we’re seeing a complete package that would expand telehealth access to Medicare beneficiaries,” she continued. “It’s an incredible step forward.”
The spending bill also included provisions for Community Health Centers, National Health Service Corps and Medicare programs that help rural area providers, said Burch. CHIP was also extended for a longer period than anticipated, which provides some stability and certainty to the industry as a whole.
The budget also provides at least $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health for two years and $6 billion for the opioid epidemic.
What’s incredibly valuable is that the two-year budget gives appropriators a “longer runway for the FY19 budget.”
“But there’s much more work to be done,” said Burch. “It’s never a silver bullet… like with the CHRONIC Care bill, we’re trying to bridge this major gap where technology and innovation is, and where regulation and policy is.”
“The bill takes us a little way there, but there’s certainly more to do,” she added.
HIMSS will be continuing to work on progressing these needs moving forward, while concentrating on cybersecurity, interoperability and infrastructure.
Although the industry has come a long way, cybersecurity continues to be a major issue for healthcare, said Burch. HIMSS played a major part of Sec. 405 of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, which it developed with the Senate HELP committee.
“[That work] got the attention of the Department of Health and Human Servicesand got the ball rolling, which created a more active relationship between HHS and the private sector,” said Burch.
But one of the biggest needs — and perhaps the biggest push — will continue to be around infrastructure needs. Burch explained that while Congress continues to have these conversations around infrastructure and public and rural health, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“We’re still trying to impress upon lawmakers that yes, our roads and bridges may be crumbling, but we still have those with no access to broadband,” said Burch. And that has some of the best use cases for health IT and telehealth.