U.S. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today expressed concern over a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG) report finding insufficient oversight by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) of the $32.7 billion electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use incentive program. The IG found that few, if any, protections have been put in place at CMS or with government contractors to detect or prevent fraud from occurring in the EHR program, and suggested that CMS is still using the outdated practices that were used to review and audit paper health records.
"Today's HHS Inspector General's report confirms the concerns we expressed last spring about the need for adequate oversight of the electronic health record program to prevent waste and fraud," said Thune, Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "I support the use of electronic health record systems as a way to improve health care, but CMS must ensure that the system is not manipulated in a way that allows for overbilling. As the administration continues to implement the next stages of the meaningful use program, CMS must do more to ensure that the technology it approves better protects taxpayer dollars."
"Encouraging the use of electronic health care records by doctors, hospitals and other health care providers is about improving care for patients," said Alexander, the senior Republican on the Senate Health Committee. "The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should be doing everything it can to prevent and stop the fraud and abuse that undermine this crucial innovation in the health care industry and put Medicare at risk of overpaying for care."
"Today's HHS IG's report highlighting insufficient practices to protect electronic health records is deeply concerning," said Burr, the senior Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "It is particularly troubling that the issues raised today are not new, but echo those highlighted by my colleagues and I last year. Today's report is another example of the Administration falling short when it comes to implementation of IT initiatives and only increases my concerns regarding the security of consumer's information under the Affordable Care Act. When it comes to protecting patient's information, the Administration's actions continue to speak louder than their promises. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to advance health information technology under the HITECH Act and the Administration should ensure that the American people's investment is sound and their information secure."
"The Inspector General's office has offered an important warning that CMS is failing to adequately oversee the program integrity of its electronic health records program," said Dr. Coburn, the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "Taxpayers fund the federal incentive payments that help to drive providers' adoption of EHRs, which contain sensitive personal information. CMS has a fundamental responsibility to do a better job of policing and enforcing basic security requirements. I look forward to working with my colleagues who penned the REBOOT report in continuing oversight as needed to ensure CMS takes the necessary precautions to protect taxpayers and patients."
"Reducing the opportunities for fraud and removing the incentives for overbilling are vital to improving confidence in electronic health record programs," said Enzi, a senior member of the Senate Health Committee. "The serious issues identified by the Inspector General need to be addressed to protect patient information, improve data security, and reduce waste. I join my colleagues in calling for changes to this program that will put privacy and safety of one's personal information first."
"It's unfortunate that another report is being released citing pitfalls in the implementation of electronic health records," said Roberts, the senior Republican on the Senate Rules Committee. "Even more unfortunate is the fact that my colleagues and I have been pointing out these problematic concerns to the Administration for over a year and as this report details little to no response has occurred. Electronic health records are important for the future of our health system, however their implementation must be done in a thorough and conscientious way that ensures all providers are included and leads to the reduction of waste or fraud and not its increase. I will continue to push for an interoperable health IT system but it must protect patient privacy and it must include safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse."
In April of 2013, the group of Republican senators released a white paper, "REBOOT: Re-examining the Strategies Needed to Successfully Adopt Health IT," outlining concerns with current federal health information technology policy, including increased health care costs, lack of momentum toward interoperability, potential waste and abuse, patient privacy, and long-term sustainability.