Members of the board charged with regulating privacy and security in the exchange of electronic health information today sent letters to legislative leaders urging passage of a bill they said is urgent and essential to ease liability fears among Kansas doctors so they will join newly forming health information exchanges.
The bill — originally Senate Bill 133, which is now folded into House Bill 2182 — is hung up amid wrangling over a smoking ban dispute. Supporters said they fear that with the clock ticking on the legislative session, the bill may go unpassed. The legislative session typically ends on or soon after 90 days, and Thursday is the 90th day.
If the bill goes unpassed, the effect would be "profound," said Jeff Ellis, the Kansas City attorney who helped write and lobby for the bill.
KHIE board letter to Rep. Landwehr
KHIE board letter to Sen. Schmidt
Dramatic consequences predicted
"Our policies would be affected dramatically," Ellis said. "I think there is a sense of urgency but I don't know how we get that message across. If we're going to...be a state that has implemented an effective exchange, we've got to," have the bill put into law.
The bill would harmonize some 200 Kansas privacy laws with the federal law often referred to as HIPAA — the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which includes provisions regarding the privacy and security of health data. SB 133 was the product of two years of work by a group of 28 Kansas medical lawyers.
"If the bill's not passed, then obviously the same confusion that reigns in Kansas law now because of the multitude and multiple layers of laws governing the exchange of information will prevail," Ellis said. "The ripple effect for this organization is going to be on our policy. How will the policy be developed here that will somehow make up for the problems that have been created by not getting the legislative oversight for this. That will be fairly profound."
Jerry Slaughter, who represents the Kansas Medical Society, told fellow board members that it was particularly important the bill pass this year because it could run into even more obstacles next year.
"It's an election year and moreover it's a year when the Legislature wrestles around with reapportionment, redrawing the districts. So it's the most intensely political of any session you can have. So we could very likely be sitting around this table next year facing the very same thing," Slaughter said.
Jackie John, KHIE board member, and a representative of the Great Plains Health Alliance, said without the legislation medical providers who have already invested in health information technology are in a position of risk.
"What we don't want is to bring people into this process and then have them legally at risk because of the legal structure that this legislation was meant to correct," John said.
Board member Ken Mishler said if the legislation fails this year, it would kill the momentum Kansas has built in getting providers to adopt electronic health information technology. Mishler is chief executive of the Kansas Regional Extension Center, which helps providers navigate the maze of selecting and implementing health information technology.
"Things are moving right now," Mishler said. "If we stall out, if we put this on the back burner, we're going to be back to square one. It'll be three steps forward, three steps back with the providers. They're so critical in this process and there's enough of them out there already saying 'See I told you so, I told you this wasn't going to happen.' And we haven't had to defend that up to this point because things have been moving forward."
The letters were drafted Wednesday morning during the board meeting and sent this afternoon to Rep. Brenda Landwehr, the Wichita Republican who heads the House Health and Human Services Committee, and to Sen. Vicki Schmidt, the Topeka Republican who heads the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee. They are the chief negotiators on HB 2182 and other health bills.
The two are at loggerheads because Kansas House leaders want the Senate to vote on a bill that would ban smoking in state-owned casinos. A laundry list of health-related legislation is being held up because of the dispute.
Despite minimal time remaining to get SB 133 passed, Slaughter told KHI News Service: "I'm hopeful we can get it done. I don't think it's over yet. It's late, but because there's pretty much agreement on the content of the bills, if they can work through the difficulty on this unrelated issue...it could still get done. It's never over 'til it's over."
In other business
Board members were told that the search committee had offered the KHIE chief executive officer position to its top candidate, but that he recently declined. The committee had narrowed down about 200 applications to five for interviews.
The search committee met in closed "executive session" today to discuss next steps.
The KHIE board also learned that the Office of the National Coordinator had approved its strategic and operational plan, pending some changes. Representatives from the ONC will be in Topeka on Wednesday and Thursday next week meeting with board members to discuss implementation details. The ONC is the federal agency coordinating state-based efforts to implement health information exchange.