By David Pittman | 04/18/2017 10:00 AM EDT
HEALTH DATA CONFERNCE NOT AS EXCITING: Health Datapalooza , the annual conference of data geeks and number nerds, is curiously lacking in appearances by HHS political appointees with a little more than a week to go, Morning eHealth notices. ONC head Don Rucker and HHS's new deputy assistant secretary for health technology reform, John Fleming, aren't scheduled to speak. There are no political appointees from CMS and HHS Secretary Tom Price, while invited, has yet to confirm, according to the event's website. Compare that to the last three years when HHS secretaries (Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius) and National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo spoke. Former CMS head Andy Slavitt keynoted the last two years, and Vice President Joe Biden attended last year.
- An HHS spokesman said not to read too much into the lack of an HHS presence. Academy Health, which runs Health Datapalooza, chalked it up to the difficulty of nailing down schedules too far in advance. "I'm pretty certain we'll know more by the end of this week," Vice President Kristin Rosengren told us.
To be fair: The new director of HHS's HIPAA-enforcement office, Roger Severino, is scheduled to speak next Thursday. VA Secretary David Shulkin will be there Friday along with Patrick Conway, the long-serving honcho for health reform efforts at CMS. ONC will have several career staffers there as well.
Why it matters: Having Price, Rucker and/or Fleming speak at Datapalooza would be a chance would be a chance to publicly address a health IT-focused crowd for the first time since taking office.
Also of note: HHS's Idea Lab previews this year's Datapalooza, dishing that there will be a new patient matching challenged announced with HIMSS.
DOES THIS MAKE IF OFFICIAL?: Rucker and Fleming were re-added to ONC's leadership page late last week. Their bios first appeared last Monday only to be taken down when Morning eHealth pointed it out. (Thanks for that, HHS.) Their likelihood of staying up there is higher since Rucker has been added to HHS's overall leadership page, which still counts 16 "acting" leaders.
Meanwhile, Price met with ONC staff last week as well, posting these photos on his Twitter feed. Once shows him sitting next to Rucker, laughing with several high-ranking ONC officials.
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DRIVING THE DAY: The FTC today will hold a workshop to examine competition in the hearing aid market. As we've written in the past, consumer-grade technology is making it possible to have over-the-counter hearing aids, if the FDA would allow the new class of medical devices. A bipartisan bill spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren would green light the OTC hearing aids. FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen will give the opening remarks at the day-long event on how more competition in the hearing aid market could help the 30 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss. Tune in here.
HEALTH PLANS, CMS HUDDLE: Top health insurance officials are scheduled to meet with CMS Administrator Seema Verma today as work to simultaneously dismantle and stabilize Obamacare continues. Pro's Paul Demko reports executives from America's Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Molina Healthcare, Geisinger Health Plan, Oscar Insurance Company, Kaiser Permanente and Health Care Service Corp. along with many large, regional health plans have confirmed.
PRICE'S OLD SEAT UP FOR GRABS: Some Georgia voters will head to the polls today to elect a replacement for the state's sixth congressional district, left vacant when Price became HHS secretary. The race has been getting buzz as 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff seeks to represent the heavily GOP district. He'll need to finish with more than 50 percent of the vote (which is possible yet very tough) to avoid a runoff, where he's more likely to lose. There are 11 Republicans on the ballot, splitting the conservative vote.
THERANOS SETTLES CMS CLAIMS: The once-hyped startup has settled its dispute with CMS, the company announced late Monday. While the company once faced penalties of $10,000 per day plus permanent revocation of lab licenses, it says it will lose its right to operate a lab for the next two years, plus $30,000 in civil monetary funds.
- In its press release announcing the settlement, the company stressed its pivot to a new business model: making lab testing devices for others to operate. (It says it is "looking forward to working with regulatory authorities to secure approval" for these technologies.) Still, the startup is facing multiple lawsuits. Earlier its year, it laid off 41 percent of its workforce.
CERNER RATES HIGHEST IN POTENTIAL VA BID: A Black Book report that tracked ratings from 30,000 EHR users' experiences against the VA's health service goals concluded that Cerner has the best chance of winning a multi-billion-dollar contract to build the VA a new EHR. Black Book, which created scores based on customer satisfaction with the software as well as how well it seemed to fit VA's needs, found Cerner atop the list with a mean score of 9.14 out of a possible 10. Coming in next was Allscripts with a mean score of 8.91, followed by Epic (8.17), athenahealth (7.89), and Meditech (7.66).
- The switch from VA's VistA system is expected and a final decision may occur on or before July 1, according to Schulkin.
ONC CERTIFYING BODY DROPS OUT OF SERVICE: One of four companies that certifies EHR products for ONC, ICSA Labs, will no longer certify health IT products for the HHS office after the end of this year, our own Arthur Allen scoops. The dropping of ICSA won't hurt the roll out of 2015 certified EHRs, ONC says. Alicia Morton, who leads ONC's certification program, told ICSA clients in an email last week, "we are committed to ensuring minimal disruption and an orderly transition to the remaining [accreditation bodies] for continued certification/ surveillance support."
Why it matters: HIMSS last week asked ONC to delay requirement for 2015 certification until July 2018; medical groups want it delayed until 2019. Vendors complain that ONC has been slow to finish the testing requirements for the software, which has many new features. ICSA said the decision was unrelated to any problems with the 2015 edition.
VA AWARDS HEALTH DATA CONTRACT: Leidos announced a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs, valued up to $29 million, as part of its work to modernize the VA's IT systems. The new contract will specifically target several health data repositories. The work "is pivotal in meeting government initiatives for sharing patient data and facilitating interoperability of health record data between the VA, Department of Defense and other external agencies," Leidos said in a release.
YOUR DAILY MISSOURI PDMP UPDATE: There's a race against time to finish Missouri prescription drug monitoring bill. The state legislature's session ends May 15. State Rep. Holly Rehder, in an email to Morning eHealth, called some of the amendments that passed the Senate on Friday "very problematic." One GOP Senate staff predicts lawmakers will run out of time if the House change the bill. In 2015, both chambers passed separate PDMP bills, but time ran out while conferencing the two bills.
ON THE MOVE: Former Obama Administration CTO and Health Datapalooza co-founder Todd Park will join the board of the left-leaning New America Foundation.
SHAKE UP AT THE APP ASSOCIATION: Jonathan Zuck will step down after 19 years as App Association president to become executive director of the Innovators Network Foundation, the association's nonprofit for unemployment solutions. The App Association's Morgan Reed, currently its executive director, will take on the role of president. The group announced several other new hires. "The ecosystem is evolving, and our team provides the knowledge and expertise to help all players within the app economy thrive and grow," Reed said.
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