House Passes Cures Act; IT Interoperability Could Benefit


This week, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which aims to ease the approval process for new drugs and medical devices, augment federal research funding, boost mental health funding, and provide $1 billion to address opioid abuse and addiction. Health IT interoperability also could benefit, although no funding is provided.

Some cynics see the bill as a boon for the pharmaceutical industry: Its trade association spent $24.7 million of its annual $30 million budget to get the bill passed, as members will benefit significantly through lower regulatory costs. In fact, the bill was one of the most lobbied pieces of legislation in recent history, with nearly three lobbyists working for or against it for every member of Congress.

Academic institutions and researchers stand to gain, as the legislation passed by the House provides for an additional $4.8 billion in funding over ten years. Funding, however, is not mandatory and must be appropriated each year.

The act also has the potential to improve IT interoperability, pushing federal agencies and providers nationwide to use EHR systems and collect data to enhance research and treatment, according to a report from National Public Radio.

Writing in Health Data Management, the VP of Industry Relations for Phoenix Health Systems believes that if passed, the Cures Act will end information blocking and promote nationwide health IT interoperability.

“HHS will receive $15 million in funding to change ONC’s certification process to help push interoperability and fight information blocking by EHR vendors,” wrote D’Arcy Guerin Gue.

She wrote that the act will:

  • change the conditions of Meaningful Use EHR certification to include interoperability and mandate the development of APIs or other technologies to enable the application to be “accessed, exchanged, and used without special effort”;
  • place strong emphasis on providing patient access to their EHR information in a single longitudinal format that is easy to understand, secure, and updates automatically;
  • provide greater support of network exchanges to advance interoperable health IT infrastructure;
  • enable federal agencies to require participants to adopt “a trusted exchange framework” to build common agreement among health information networks nationally; and
  • establish a Health Information Technology Advisory Committee that will unify and replace the existing HIT Policy Committee and HIT Standard Committee.

Health IT vendors also heavily lobbied the legislation, spending $35 million on this and other legislation in 2106, exceeding the pharmaceutical industry’s spend.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, which is expected to act on it next week.