You may have heard that, last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the creation of a new office: the “Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics.”
What exactly is this new office supposed to do? According to the press release from CMS, the intent is “to unify the agency’s efforts to reduce regulatory and administrative burden and to further the goal of putting patients first.”
All well and good. But what does that actually mean?
Here’s one thing that CMS says clearly. They are “committed to leveraging the significant flexibilities introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as we continue to lead the rapid transformation to value-based healthcare.”
We’ve all been hearing about value-based care for years. (Here’s a piece from 2016, for example.) The pace of change hasn’t been particularly speedy, and the pandemic has disrupted most big transformative plans, especially in healthcare.
That said, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is still committed to value-based care. If reducing or streamlining the regulatory environment is necessary in order to make this change happen, you can bet that HHS and CMS will do it.
What specific regulations will CMS change in order to make this happen? That remains to be seen. Recently, CMS did announce that they will be maintaining at least some of the regulatory changes related to telehealth.
Which ones? We know of one rule change that CMS has announced: the proposed physician fee schedule rule, which should come out in July, will include proposals to permanently expand coverage for telehealth services. As of this writing, the rule has not been published, and CMS has not announced details.
With that exception, however, there hasn’t been a lot of movement on specific regulations that could be helpful. In fact, our observations suggest that most regulators are moving back to business as usual. If CMS has plans to streamline regulations to enable the transformation to value-based care, they are keeping those plans very close to the vest.
However, CMS commits clearly to increasing the number of stakeholders – including clinicians, providers and health plans – that it engages with when assessing the impact of new regulations.
This could be a welcome change for compliance professionals, as a more comprehensive assessment of regulatory impact could result in a regulatory environment that’s a lot easier to work within. Clearer regs with reduced expectations would mean less work required by the clinical and revenue cycle staff in your organization.
And that would mean less time spent following up and trying to get staff to do the work.
CMS has also committed – as indicated in the second half of the new office’s name – to further implement health informatics. The idea here is to effectively use health data in order to provide better care.
CMS gives this as a specific example: “to create new tools that allow patients to own and carry their personal health data with them seamlessly, privately, and securely throughout the health care system.”
This proposal has obvious advantages for both patients and providers. But it could cause significant headaches for compliance.
Staying in compliance with an EHR system for just one health system is challenging enough. What CMS is proposing is an EHR system that applies across all Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. This would be much more complicated! The HIPAA implications alone could be staggering.
So, the use of health informatics could make the work of compliance much more challenging. We can all expect that there will be more data available and being used, and more complex tools to manage it. This trend exists across almost all industries, and healthcare is not going to be an exception.
In a highly regulated environment like healthcare, however, big data and big data tools will need to be monitored very carefully. There are a lot of ways that data tools could violate regulatory requirements. If compliance professionals aren’t careful, software and other tools could be put in place that expose the organization to high levels of risk.
Staying Up to Date
As of this writing, there is limited information as to what the Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics will be doing for the US healthcare system. It has a broad mandate, with unclear specifics.
There is a possibility that the office will make compliance easier, by more effectively assessing the impact of regulations before imposing them. There is also a (stronger) possibility that it may make compliance more challenging, by creating wide-ranging technological systems that compliance officers will need to monitor carefully.
As new regulations are issued, and new announcements are made, we’ll be keeping you updated. youCompli customers always have access to the latest regulatory changes as they come out and will be well-positioned to adapt to the environment created by his new office.
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