Major Budget Cuts for OCR and ONC

The Trump administration has revealed its 2018 fiscal budget with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) both facing major cuts to their operational budgets for the coming year.

The ONC will have its $60 million budget per year cut by 36% for the coming financial year. Due to this ONC may need to lose 26 members of stafff and may have to reconsider its priorities. Similarly the OCR faces a budget cut  from $38 million to $33 million a measure also likely requiring the loss of 16 staff.

The fiscal 2018 budget is not finalized and changes are likely to be made before the budget is signed off on by Congress. However, the Trump administration has previously stated the aim to shave $15.1 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services budget and cuts are therefore to be expected.

The OCR has many duties although, as the chief enforcer of HIPAA Rules, these budget cuts could affect the agency’s HIPAA enforcement duties. OCR has long been planning to put in place a permanent HIPAA audit program, although those plans may have to be delayed once more.

The next phase of these compliance audits, which eventually commenced last fall after many delays, could also be under threat. OCR has already carried out desk audits but the on-site audits that were going to take place in the first quarter of 2017 have now been pushed back to the end of the year.

Karen DeSalvo stated earlier this year that the on-site audits may even be pushed back as far as 2018. If the budget cuts are signed off on by Congress, it is possible that those on-site audits of covered entities will be delayed by an even longer period of time.

Other HIPAA duties are less likely to be affected. OCR is allowed to keep a proportion of the funds collected from its HIPAA enforcement duties which can be used to fund more investigations and enforcement actions. It is unlikely that significant cut backs would be made to HIPAA enforcement actions that bring in much required funds.

With less funding OCR’s civil rights activities are likely to be adversely affected.

The new director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, released a statement about the proposed budget stating, it “outlines a clear path toward fiscal responsibility by creating efficiencies that both improve services and save money.”

Mr Price is likely to have to oversee some major changes to improve the running of his department over the coming months.