HHS outlines final proposal to ease regulatory burdens

Rescinding or revising requirements for the health care industry could save physicians, hospitals and others $600 million a year.

By Charles Fiegl — Posted Sept. 5, 2011

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Revisions to federal rules governing the health care industry are expected to save the system $3 billion over five years, the Dept. of Health and Human Services said.

HHS issued its final regulatory relief plan as part of the Obama administration's effort to reduce regulatory burdens across the federal government. Changes to health care regulations, which are expected to save those subject to the rules $600 million annually, will be detailed in a proposed rule in September, HHS said in an Aug. 22 report.

This year, President Obama directed departments to review regulations that could be eliminated or changed so rules are more effective and streamlined. Individual agencies under HHS followed the lead by taking inventory of regulations for an ongoing retrospective review process -- identifying regulations that easily could be modified, as well as other rules for further review.

The American Medical Association and others in organized medicine have urged HHS to make changes to federal rules that cost medical practices time and money. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plans to work on several issues outlined by the organizations, according to the report. For instance, CMS intends to eliminate outdated quality measures and standardize reporting methods by aligning the federal electronic medical record incentive program with other initiatives.

CMS has proposed a rule outlining the changes and intends to publish a final rule in September, HHS said. "This initiative should reduce confusion in the physician community and reduce the reporting and paperwork burdens throughout the industry."

CMS also will allow for more access to telemedicine services for patients in rural and critical access areas. The agency published a rule permitting hospitals to use telemedicine to obtain services from a credentialed practitioner at a distant hospital as long as the hospital also is participating in Medicare and a written agreement between both facilities exists.

CMS has initiated an alignment effort between conflicting segments of Medicare and Medicaid programs. The agency wants to improve care for Medicare-Medicaid enrollees, known as dual eligibles, by developing a work plan for coordination between the two programs this year.

Other CMS rules in line for reform are:

  • Requirements that operating room emergency equipment must be available in an ambulatory surgery center and a duplicative infection control program requirement for facilities.
  • Re-enrollment prohibitions for failure to respond to requests for information.
  • Conditions of participation for facilities for the mentally retarded.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to revise its adverse events reporting requirements by switching to a paperless system. Electronic submission would allow for quicker reporting and reduce processing time, officials said.

HHS also is revising how it designates health professional shortage and medically underserved areas. The criteria were created in the 1970s. This fall, HHS intends to release rules that would clarify distinctions between the two designations.

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Cutting regulations

The Dept. of Health and Human Services will eliminate or revise several agency rules impacting physicians, hospitals and others in the health care industry. Annual projected savings include:

  • Eliminating redundant or unnecessary Medicare and Medicaid rules, $200 million.
  • Revising HIPAA requirements, $120 million and 2 million burden hours.
  • Changing credentialing requirements for telemedicine, $13.6 million.
  • Eliminating actuarial reporting for hospital pension costs, $375,000.

Source: Dept. of Health and Human Services Plan for Retrospective Review of Existing Rules, Aug. 22

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