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New Blue Button 2.0 Bill Seeks to Put mHealth in the Spotlight

A new bill introduced last week would compel the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to publicize and support an mHealth platform enabling consumers to more easily access their personal health data.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Congress is looking to compel the federal government to expand the mHealth platform through which consumers on Medicare and Medicaid can access and use their personal health data.

U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Yvette Clark (D-NY) last week filed the Mobile Health Record Act of 2018 (HR 7272), which would compel the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to boost promotion of the Blue Button 2.0 mobile health platform to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and develop more mHealth apps.

Blue Button 2.0, which uses the HL7 FHIR standard for beneficiary data and the OAuth 2.0 standard for beneficiary authorization, currently contains four years of Medicare Part A, B and D data for 53 million Medicare beneficiaries, including prescriptions, insurance coverage, primary care treatment and cost options.

The bill calls for the creation of a Mobile Access to Personal Medical Information Program within a year “for purposes of creating a developer-friendly, standards-based API that enables individuals entitled to benefits under part A or enrolled under part B to connect their claims data to the applications, services, and research programs they trust while allowing such individuals to retain full control over how the copy of the data they receive can be used and by whom.”

It also calls on CMS to explore new methods for encouraging consumer use, including possible financial incentives to app developers so that consumers could download their data for free or at a reduced cost when first accessing the platform. And it calls on the agency to consult with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and other federal agencies to ensure that any apps on the Blue Button 2.0 platform meet applicable privacy and security guidelines.

According to Politico, CMS has said there are some 16 mHealth apps now under production on the Blue Button 2.0 API, but no date has been set for their release.

The original Blue Button platform, developed by Bettina Experton of Humetrix, was unveiled in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. Blue Button 2.0 made its first public appearance at this year’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, and has attracted the attention of some 1,200 software developers.

While support for Blue Button has been minimal, due in large part to the on-again, off-again problems with Healthcare.gov, experts say the improved Blue Button 2.0 platform should generate more interest – as long as the government gets behind the initiative.

“The world’s changing,” said Yale Medical School Professor Harlan Krumholz told Politico in October, following a well-attended developers conference in Washington DC. “Once people get their data there will be apps and uses we can’t even imagine now. In every other field, once data is put to work for us, it achieves things we hadn’t imagined.”

Among the many groups and agencies adopting the Blue Button framework is the Department of Veterans Affairs, which earlier this month unveiled its first mHealth API that will enable veterans to access their data through apps. More than 2 million veterans have reportedly accessed their data through the VA’s portal since Blue Button was introduced.

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