The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would delay until 2020 the start of a controversial electronic visit verification program to track when personal care services are provided to people with disabilities.

“We’re really thrilled,” said Esme Grewal, vice president of government relations at the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR, a nonprofit trade association representing disability service providers. “We are hoping that it will continue passage through the Senate and that we’ll see final passage very soon.”

Electronic visit verification was mandated by Congress in December 2016 with a scheduled start date of January 2019. While the goal is to stop fraudulent Medicaid billing by requiring in-home care providers to electronically check in and out when providing services, advocates for people with disabilities have raised concerns about privacy, cost and speed of implementation.

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In May, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate and House that called for a one-year delay. The House bill approved Tuesday was a different version, which was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky. It would delay implementation until January 2020 but unlike the original bill, it would explicitly require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to hold at least one public meeting this year to solicit feedback from patients, caregivers and state health officials.

The legislation passed by a voice vote rather than roll call. On the House floor, Guthrie called the measure a simple fix to allow more time to develop electronic visit verification systems to “protect some of the most vulnerable Medicaid recipients.”

“Home visits are a critical part of improving quality care to patients, many of whom have disabilities and require extra care in their homes,” Guthrie said before the vote.

Advocates are urging the Senate to approve the same language as the House.

“I think the legislation passed (this week) was an improvement on the bill introduced in May, in that it had a heavy emphasis on stakeholder input,” said Nicole Jorwic, director of rights policy for The Arc.

Jorwic said her constituents have expressed strong interest in participating. She said it’s important to create systems that are technologically sound but protect individual privacy rights not only at the time of the check in, but when those records are used afterward.

“I think there’s a real fear around this but also a real desire to work toward creating something good,” Jorwic said. “It will also allow the industry time to work on better systems than what’s been out there at this point.”

Grewal said although privacy and cost concerns remain, securing a delay is the top legislative priority.

“A lot of these issues can potentially be addressed with a thoughtful time frame,” Grewal said.

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