On Feb. 12, 2019, CMS Administrator Seema Verma held a session with some members of the healthcare media (this reporter attended the session) at HIMSS19 in Orlando in which she previewed her keynote remarks at the conference. During the briefing, and later during the actual keynote, Verma provided insight into the recently released Interoperability Proposed Rule as well as spoke directly about the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)’ efforts for empowering American patients.
During each session, Administrator Verma highlighted specific actions her agency is taking to ensure Americans have access to their medical records in a digital format. She also profiled some of the steps for setting the stage to increase seamless flow of health information, reducing burdens on patients and providers, and fostering innovation in healthcare through the unleashing of data for researcher and care innovation.
The Administrator took a strong tone to support patient access to their health information and ownership of patient data. “One thing that I want to make very clear for the entire healthcare system is that the data belongs to the patient. It’s their data. It doesn’t belong to the provider. It doesn’t belong to the EHR company. It belongs the patient.”
According to the statement announcing the proposed rule, CMS said it will publicly report providers or hospitals that participate in “information blocking,” practices that unreasonably limit the availability, disclosure and use of electronic health information undermine efforts to improve interoperability or that hinder getting personal data into the hands of the respective patient.
Verma said that CMS will publish lists of the organizations that engage in information blocking and the agency may, ultimately, sanction or financially penalize those “bad actor” organizations and individuals.
“The current healthcare system is complex, opaque and difficult to navigate,” she said during her HIMSS keynote. “Patients lack information and, therefore, power about the best decisions for their healthcare.”
Verma also said that price transparency and cost controls remain her priority, as well as making it easier for patients to review their complete health record to ensure it is accurate. “Everything that we are doing focuses on our efforts to empower patients,” she said.
During each of these sessions, Verma took a shot at the leadership of the previous White House administration. Her agency, she said, is working to reposition the government’s role from one prescribing processes through heavy regulation to one focused on safeguarding outcomes and taxpayers’ dollars, a “stark contrast” to the problems healthcare faced just two years ago.
CMS is very much in “de-regulation mode,” but holding providers accountable without micromanaging the process. In the end, though, she brought everything back to the patient. After $36 billion was spent during meaningful use incentives, patients don’t have access to their personal medical records, she said.