House of Representatives Approves the Lift on the Ban to Create HHS National Patient Identifier System

The House of Representatives voted to remove the restriction on the Department of Health and Human Services to use federal funds for creating a national patient identifier system.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) required the creation of a national patient identifier system. Such a system would issue to every person in the U.S.A. a permanent, unique identification number, much like a Social Security number, that will identify every patient all throughout the entire U.S. healthcare system. In case a patient from California visits an emergency room in New York, the patient identifier can be used to identify the patient and give the healthcare company access to his/her medical history. At present, without such a system, accessing a patient’s medical records is difficult and increases the possibility of patient misidentification.

The seriousness of mismatched records has been established in several studies. For example, in 2012, a study performed by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) discovered that 20% of its members can attribute an undesirable medical event to mismatched patient records. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) observed mismatching in 7 out of 100 patient records in 2014. About 50% to 60% of patient records are mismatched if shared among different healthcare companies. A study done by Ponemon Institute showed that 35% of denied claims are because of mismatched or incomplete patient records. This results in about $1.2 million per year costs to the healthcare industry.

The HIPAA has been in effect for 24 years without a national patient identifier system in place. A ban was enforced in 1999 until now stopping the Department of Health and Human Services from financing the creation of such a system due to privacy issues.

Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) have exerted efforts to lift the ban, which partially succeeded last year when the House of Representatives voted to take out the ban but the Senate rejected it.

On July 30, 2020, the House accepted the Foster-Kelly amendment for the House fiscal 2021 appropriations bill that covers the departments of labor, health and human services and education. In case the Foster-Kelly amendment is integrated in the Senate fiscal year 2021 funding bill, the HHS can freely evaluate a variety of solutions and choose one that is least expensive, scalable and risk-free.

Supporters of removing the ban assert a national patient identifier could improve patient safety and could help implement the safe exchange of healthcare data. Although there is growing support for the use of a national patient identifier, not all people are convinced that it is good. Oppositions to removing the ban think that a national patient identifier could produce significant privacy problems. The Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom mentioned a national patient identifier might merge all of your private data, creating a master key that could make every American’s financial, medical, and other private information accessible.

Though there are worries about privacy, the advantages of having such a system were highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. Short-term healthcare facilities and testing locations were built and laboratories are currently handling a lot of COVID-19 tests. There were numerous reports of medical facilities having difficulties to properly identify patients and labs have found it hard to match test findings with the patients because of the absence of full demographic information.

According to Russ Branzell, CHIME CEO, the present crisis is marked by another milestone, the passage of the Foster-Kelly Amendment in the House to keep patients secure, taking us nearer to a national patient identification solution.

Rep. Bill Foster further stated that accurately identifying patients throughout the care continuum is crucial to dealing with this public health emergency, and eliminating this prohibition will relieve hard and preventable operational concerns, which will cut costs and save lives.