HHS on Tuesday unveiled plans to delay enforcement of two recently released rules on interoperability and data blocking.
The CMS said it will give providers an additional six months to comply with rules to improve data sharing. Meanwhile, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is giving vendors an additional three months to comply with its health IT certification program.
"During this critical time, we understand that resources need to be focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic," ONC chief Dr. Donald Rucker said in a statement.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma added that the industry needs flexibility right now since it is "under siege by COVID-19."
Healthcare organizations in recent weeks had raised concerns about the compliance deadlines outlined in the rules, arguing that their staffs were focused on COVID-19 response.
"We're having a hard time seeing how this massive implementation can run on a parallel track with a global pandemic," Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, told Modern Healthcare in March.
The ONC and the CMS released final versions the companion rules online in early March; however, the rules haven't been officially published in the Federal Register yet and therefore aren't enforceable.
The ONC's final rule is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on May 1.
The rules, a provision of the 21st Century Cures Act, are designed to make it easier for providers, insurers and patients to exchange health data, in large part by requiring providers and insurers to adopt standardized application programming interfaces, or APIs—protocols that connect IT systems like electronic health records with third-party apps.
Not all healthcare stakeholders advocated for a delay. In fact, some cited COVID-19 as a reason to push forward with data-sharing regulations.
"The COVID-19 pandemic gripping the nation underscores the importance of these regulations in enabling greater data exchange and providing patients with their information," Ben Moscovitch, the Pew Charitable Trusts' project director for health IT, wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month. "The new regulations to promote data sharing play an essential role in ensuring continuity of care for patients and should be implemented without delay."
HHS' Office of Inspector General on Tuesday also unveiled its proposed rule to impose financial penalties on providers that violate the information-blocking rules.
Under the proposal, the OIG would be able to investigate information-blocking claims and levy so-called "civil money penalties" on providers that violate HHS' information-block rules.
"The proposed rule would not impose new information blocking requirements," OIG said in a statement. "Individuals and entities subject to the information blocking CMPs would have time to come into compliance with any final regulations."
OIG proposed delaying enforcement of the information-blocking provisions until 60 days after its rule is final. However, the office said it's seeking feedback on when enforcement should begin.
"OIG is working to meet its mission while minimizing burdens on providers and being flexible where possible during the COVID-19 public health emergency," Christi A. Grimm, HHS-OIG principal deputy inspector general, said in a statement.