Connecticut law bans EHR-linked information blocking

Connecticut law bans EHR-linked information blocking

Independent medical groups are accusing big hospital-based networks — including Yale-New Haven Health System — of using their electronic health records as a tool to coerce practices to join them while punishing those who remain out of network.

These accusations led Connecticut in June to become the first state to make it illegal to use EHRs to block the flow of medical information — an issue that has become big in Congress recently, with the Senate HELP committee this month drafting a bill that prohibits data blocking.

 The state attorney general has reportedly opened investigations into Epic Systems and hospital networks in Connecticut, while HHS’ inspector general has issued a warning about unfair EHR-related practices.

Connecticut’s law, which took effect Oct. 1, was aimed at slowing the rapid consolidation of health care networks, a national trend in recent years.

Between 2011 and 2013, there were 285 hospital mergers, according to the American Hospital Association. That’s 101 more than in the prior three years. Hospital systems across the country have also been aggressively acquiring physician groups, in some cases sparking antitrust concerns.

Yale-New Haven Health System, Connecticut’s biggest health network, in 2013 accounted for 41 percent of the hospital profits in the state, while a second chain, Hartford Health, had 17 percent.

Independent physician practices complain that as the chains grow, it becomes harder for independents to control referrals for their patients, who end up getting expensive care because of additional fees hospital network members can charge.

The higher costs put the independents, who are sometimes responsible for their patients’ costs, at risk of penalties under new federal requirements aimed at improving care coordination and trimming waste.

Critics in Connecticut say that Epic — which controls more than half the state hospital EHR market in the state — is in effect collaborating with the hospital networks to pressure practices to sell out.