Senate Did Not Lift the Ban on Financing the National Patient Identifier

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forbidden from spending any of its finances for the making and setup of a national patient identifier, yet there was an expectation that the restriction will finally be removed this year.

The House of Representatives included an amendment to its Departments of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Act of 2020 which took away the prohibition, thereby allowing the HHS to follow through on this Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requirement.

It now appears probable that the prohibition will stay in place for no less than one year as the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee’s draft 2020 fiscal budget bill, unveiled last Wednesday, has kept the text keeping the HHS from doing anything on this HIPAA requirement.

The ban was introduced in 1999 because of worries regarding patient privacy. The prohibition was included in the Congressional budget yearly since then just as it is included in the proposed 2020 fiscal budget bill.

The fiscal budget bill proposal states, “None of the funds made available in this act may be used to promulgate or adopt any final standard under section 1173(b) of the Social Security Act providing for, or providing for the assignment of, a unique health identifier for an individual (except in an individual’s capacity as an employer or a health care provider), until legislation is enacted specifically approving the 13 standard.”

The objective of the national patient identifier is to help easily and efficiently match the patients with their health files. No matter where patients obtained treatment, their health data will be connected to them by means of their unique national patient identifier code. With the new identifier, patient information could flow freely from one healthcare organization to another and it is considered by a lot of healthcare industry stakeholders to be crucial for total interoperability. Having a national patient identifier can also help improve patient privacy and safety, and do away with considerable waste and wrong spending in healthcare.

For many years, industry organizations like the American Health Information Management Association (AHMIA), the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), and the Health Innovation Alliance (HIA), are asking for the lifting of the ban.

HIA Executive Director Joel White considers the ban as ‘antiquated’ and stated that studies have shown there is only a 50% match of patients with their health records. This problem could be easily solved by a national patient identifier.

Efforts to remove the ban have increased in recent years. This year, 56 healthcare stakeholder groups want the Senate to take away the ban. There is considerable progress made this year when the amendment gets solid bipartisan support in the House.

Persuading the Senate to remove the ban is trickier. Given that there are privacy concerns, the ban is not going to be lifted. One main issue is a single identifier would be utilized to tie medical data to an individual from birth up to death, and that can allow unparalleled tracking of Americans via their health information. It can also possibly assist in the sharing, use, and evaluation of patient data without patient permission.

Although the draft fiscal budget bill did not remove the ban, it is likely that an amendment can be made later on. AHMIA and CHIME leaders stay optimistic that the Senate will go along with the House’s lead and lift the ban this year.

Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAA News section of HIPAA Coach and an experienced journalist in the healthcare sector. She specializes in healthcare and HIPAA compliance, making her a go-to source for information on healthcare regulations. Her work focuses on the importance of patient privacy and secure information handling. Elizabeth also has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Follow on Twitter: You can follow Elizabeth on twitter at