The American Hospital Association (AHA) calls on Congress to reduce the regulatory burden on hospitals and health systems, calling the burden “substantial and unsustainable.”

AHA Executive Vice President Thomas P. Nickels, JD, recently sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, suggesting several steps that Congress can take to immediately reduce the regulatory burden on hospitals and health systems. (The letter is available online at:

As an example, the AHA cites how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2016 released 49 rules related to hospitals and health systems, totaling nearly 2,400 pages. There also has been an increase in subregulatory guidance such as FAQs and blogs to help hospitals and health systems understand how to implement administrative policies, Nickels noted.

“In addition to the sheer volume, the scope of changes required by the new regulations is beginning to outstrip the field’s ability to absorb them,” he said.

The AHA letter suggests many ways Congress can reduce the regulatory burden on hospitals and health systems. Two of the suggestions relate to HIPAA, which AHA cites as particularly onerous.

HIPAA regulations restrict the sharing of patient data for healthcare operations, including the use of data for quality assessment and improvement activities, and they interfere with outcomes evaluation, as well as activities related to evaluations of provider competence and performance, he said.

“A clinically integrated setting and each of its participating providers must focus on and be accountable for all patients,” according to the letter. “Moreover, achieving the meaningful quality and efficiency improvements that a clinically integrated setting promises requires that all participating providers be able to share and conduct population-based data analyses.”

HIPAA should allow all patients’ medical information to be disclosed to and used by all participant providers in an integrated care setting, Nickels wrote, and it should not be necessary for a patient to have a direct relationship with all of those organizations that technically use and have access to the data. Treating providers also should be allowed access to patients’ substance use disorder treatment records, according to the letter, instead of how HIPAA currently requires patient consent before treating providers can access those records.

Nickels also urged Congress to pass the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act (H.R. 3545), saying it would “fully align requirements for sharing patients’ substance use disorder treatment records with HIPAA regulations that allow the use and disclosure of patient information for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations.”

The letter also called on Congress to cancel Stage 3 Meaningful Use requirements, saying it creates a significant regulatory burden without producing any clear benefit to patient care.