HHS Funding for HIPAA National Patient Identifier Development Ban Overturned by the House

Under the HIPAA Administrative Simplification Rules, the federal government is required to develop a national patient identifier. This tool would be employed by healthcare entities to match individuals with health records from various sources while increasing the accuracy of the information and ensuring it can be shared quickly and efficiently. However, the national patient identifier has failed to come to fruition. 

This is as a result of concerns about patient data security and privacy, the Department of Health and Human Services has been forbidden from using funding to create or promote a unique patient identifier system for the previous 20 years. The advantages of utilizing national patient identification are still there, and there is a greater need than ever for such a system. The benefits of establishing a national identification have led several hospitals, healthcare, and health IT organizations to call on Congress to repeal this HHS restriction. They argue that it would considerably reduce the possibility of errors and make it much simpler to connect medical information from various sources with the relevant patient. For these stakeholders, adoption of a national patient identifier will save costs while also enhancing patient safety and the standard of treatment.

The prohibition is getting closer to being lifted now, 20 years after it was implemented. A $99.4 billion HHS spending bill just went to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote on several amendments. Rep. Bill Foster put forth the amendment calling for the repeal of the ban, and it was approved on June 12 by a vote of 246 to 178. Up to this point, the ban has never been lifted by either body of Congress. The adoption of the amendment is the initial step toward the development of a national identifier, but there are still many obstacles to be addressed before the ban is fully lifted. The senate must first pass the measure and grant its blessing prior to the president signing the appropriations bill into law. Despite the advantages of a national patient identifier, several privacy advocates have raised concerns about the security risks posed by the identifier and believe the adoption of a national identifier would lead to a loss of control over patient data and an increase in the number of healthcare data breaches.