House Lifts the Ban on HHS Funding for a HIPAA National Patient Identifier System

The HIPAA Administrative Simplification Rules requires the creation of a national identifier for all patients. All healthcare organizations are supposed to use this identifier to easily match patients with their health data from several sources; to improve the dependability of health data; and to make sharing of patient data quick and efficient.

Until now, the creation of a national patient identifier has not happened yet. For the last 20 years, the Department of Health and Human Services was forbidden to use funds to create or promote a distinct patient identifier system because of issues over the privacy and security of patient information.

But the need for and the advantages of having a national patient identifier system continue to be greater than ever. A lot of hospitals, healthcare and health IT organizations are urging the lawmakers to remove the HHS ban.

They claim the system can make it easier to match medical records from several sources with the right patient. Also, he potential for problems would be significantly lessened. Besides the savings on cost, a national patient identifier can enhance the quality of patient care and safety.

Since the ban was imposed 20 years ago, it is now about to be lifted. The U.S. House of Representatives not too long ago voted on a number of amendments to a HHS appropriations bill worth $99.4 billion. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) proposed the amendment asking for the lifting of the ban and was passed.

In the last 21 years, the lack of a national patient identifier caused thousands of Americans to pass away as a result of giving the wrong medication to the wrong patient or basing medical decisions on incorrect or incomplete electronic health records. Such incidents arise from the failure to simply and properly merge health information from various systems.

With the passing of the amendment, the HHS can take the first step toward developing a national identifier. However, there are a lot more challenges to conquer before the ban is eventually lifted. The appropriations bill must first be approved by the senate so that the president could sign the bill into law.

Although the advantages of a national patient identifier are apparent, a lot of privacy advocates feel that there’s a great risk to patient privacy and security. If the adoption of a national identifier would be allowed, it’s possible that there will be loss of control over patient information and more frequent, serious healthcare data breaches.