Senate Hearing Focuses on Preventable Mistakes in Hospitals

At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee hearing, Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reported on an article maintaining that there are more than 440,000 deaths a year stemming from preventable medical errors that take place in the nation’s hospitals. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that in his opinion the fundamental problem in the U.S. health-care system is its inefficiency. Witnesses said that federal action may be needed to help improve patient safety and reduce preventable deaths. A professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, testified that safety decisions are driven by individual officials and hospitals and that policy changes be made to incent them to increase safety measures. Another witness pointed out that Medicare payments remain the same for hospitals, regardless of their safety record. Other witnesses suggested that an independent national patient safety board be created to help reform the system.

House Energy and Commerce "21st Century Cures" Panel Focuses on Technology

At a House Energy and Commerce hearing jointly convened by the Subcommittees on Communications and Technology and on Health as part of the committee’s 21st Century Cures efforts, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) praised the “technological revolution ongoing in the health-care space” and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said that it has been demonstrated that technology can improve patient outcomes, bring down costs and help reduce costly readmissions. Witnesses described: how so-called cloud computing could expand the abilities of health researchers and companies to find new biomedical treatments and cures, if the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is modernized; the need for electronic health records interoperability to allow health systems and devices to better exchange data; and the need for all of a patient’s physicians, providers and insurers to be involved in such data exchange to ensure better outcomes and cost savings through patient-centric coordinated care. It was also recommended that Congress update the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to establish guidelines defining categories of health IT according to the potential risk to the patient and the opportunity for clinical intervention. On another issue, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said that she and other House Republicans were disappointed with the response received from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) with respect to their concerns that the agency overstepped its regulatory authority in proposing the establishment of a new Health IT Safety Center.

House Members Urge that Pathologists Be Exempt from Meaningful Use

Reps. Tom Price (R-GA), Ron Kind (D-WI) and 88 other House members sent a letter to CMS requesting that pathologists be exempted through 2017 from the federal electronic health record incentive program, given that they do not work directly with patients.

CMS Announces Efforts to Restructure QIO Program/Aid State Medicaid Programs

CMS said that, as part of the second phase to restructure the not-for-profit Quality Improvement Organization Program, the agency has awarded 14 data-driven contracts to Quality Innovation Networks-Quality Improvement Organizations (QIN-QIOs) to help implement quality of care improvements throughout the care spectrum. CMS also announced a new $100 million technical support initiative, the Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program (IAP), which is designed to help improve the health of and health care for Medicaid beneficiaries by enhancing state efforts to accelerate new payment and service delivery reforms. In another initiative CMS issued new guidance for Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans which relieves them from a requirement to give prior authorization on all drugs for beneficiaries enrolled in hospice facilities. Instead, CMS said it will encourage plans to place prior authorization requirements on just four categories—analgesics, anti-nauseants, laxatives and anti-anxiety drugs.

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