Electronic Health Records

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21st Century Cures Act Passes Senate, Awaits POTUS Approval

The Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act by a strong 94-5 majority. The bipartisan legislation now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

By Sara Heath

On Wednesday afternoon, the United State Senate voted in favor of the bill following an invocation of cloture on Monday in an 85-13 vote, pushing it to a decisive vote yesterday. Last week, the House also voted on the bill, passing it by an overwhelming 392 to 26.*

Senate approves 21st Century Cures Act

Editor's note: President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 13.

In a public statement, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander celebrated the bill’s passage, calling it a “Christmas miracle.”

“With its vote today of 94 to 5, the Senate has sent an unmistakable message that the time is now to deliver on the promise of 21st Century Cures,” Alexander said.

“This bipartisan legislation – which Majority Leader McConnell has called 'the most important legislation Congress will pass this year' – will help us take advantage of the breathtaking advances in biomedical research and bring those innovations to doctors’ offices and patients’ medicine cabinets around the country.”

The bill was officially reintroduced to Congress in late November following Thanksgiving. In a revised edition, the bill targeted EHR use to improve patient care.

Specifically, the revised bill called for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “establish a goal with respect to the reduction of regulatory or administrative burdens (such as documentation requirements) relating to the use of electronic health records,” and subsequently create a strategy to achieve such a goal.

Additionally, the bill called for better health IT interoperability, and a federal effort to end information blocking. By making clear distinctions about what constitutes information blocking as well as consequences for the practice, ONC will play its role to improve healthcare technology use.

The bill also makes significant strides toward leveraging health data to developing cures for certain diseases. The 21st Century Cures Act allocates billions of dollars in funding to support the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and the BRAIN Initiatives to fight Alzheimer’s disease, provisions Alexander, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, is proud of.

“This legislation will advance Vice President Biden’s moonshot to find cures for cancer, President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative, and the BRAIN Initiative – and it will help states in the fight against opioid abuse and the one in five adults in this country suffering from a mental illness,” he said. “I look forward to the president’s signature.”

The Senate vote has received praise from key industry leaders, including Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This legislation makes important progress on pressing public health issues: the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance and the devastating epidemic of prescription drug overdoses that takes the lives of dozens of Americans every day,” said Allan Coukell, Senior Director of Health Programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “It also shines a spotlight on patient safety in the implementation of health information technology.”

Following the bill’s passage in the House, the American Medical Informatics Association likewise offered praise.

“AMIA welcomes passage of Cures legislation by the House Wednesday meant to provide much-needed funds for the National Institutes of Health and Food & Drug Administration to continue work on Precision Medicine, the Cancer Moonshot and BRAIN Initiatives,” said AMIA’s President and CEO Douglas B. Fridsma, MD, PhD, FACP, FACMI, in a public statement.

Dig Deeper:

• What Clinical Quality Measures Mean to Healthcare Providers
• Fate of 21st Century Cures Act Depends on Federal Leadership

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