House votes to lift ban on funding for national patient identifier

The U.S. House of Representatives voted June 12 to end the ban on using federal funds to create a national patient identifier.

A national patient identifier would assign a unique number to each patient and their health record that could be used universally by all providers across the country.

The House voted 246 to 178 to add an amendment to the 2020 HHS appropriations bill that would eliminate this ban. The amendment was offered by Rep. Bill Foster, PhD, D-Ill., who believes establishing unique patient identifiers would help reduce costs and medical errors, as well as tamp down on "doctor shopping," which may occur when patients are seeking opioid prescriptions, according to a press release.

Opponents see the national patient identifier as unnecessary or a potential threat to patient safety.

However, the idea has gained support across a broad spectrum of healthcare stakeholders. In a letter dated June 11, a group of healthcare organizations — including industry associations, health systems and tech companies — urged House representatives to approve the Foster amendment. The lack of such a system, the stakeholders argue, has stifled innovation, added unnecessary costs to the healthcare system and created space for more medical errors to occur.

"This problem is so dire that one of the nation's leading patient safety organizations, the ECRI Institute, named patient identification among the top ten threats to patient safety," the groups wrote.

Among the organizations that signed the letter were Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare; Orlando, Fla.-based Nemours Children's Health System; America's Health Insurance Plans; the American Medical Informatics Association; IT security company Imprivata; interoperability-focused nonprofit The Sequoia Project; and identity management software firm NextGate.


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