Senate weighs AI health care regulations

Politico Pro

February 9, 2024 9:16 am

HOW TO REGULATE AI? The Senate Finance Committee took its first crack Thursday at examining the regulation of artificial intelligence in health care, focusing on payment policies, responsible use and accountability.

“This committee has a responsibility to ensure there are guardrails in place to protect patients, particularly in Medicare and Medicaid, and I do not believe that current laws go far enough to achieve that goal,” Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, touting his legislation that would mandate companies assess the impacts of automated decisionmaking and require reporting to the FTC.

Ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) struck a more cautious tone, saying Congress needs to learn more about the technology before legislating.

“One-size-fits-all, overly rigid, and unduly bureaucratic laws and regulations risk stifling life-saving advances and becoming outdated before they are even codified,” Crapo said.

Here are three of Ben’s takeaways from the hearing:

Who’s paying? Lawmakers and witnesses from tech groups and universities were interested in reimbursement for AI tools. Crapo said Medicare coverage needs to keep pace with AI to avoid “access gaps” widening. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) probed witnesses about Medicare coverage gaps.

Peter Shen, head of digital and automation for North America at Siemens Healthineers, called for a “more predictable” reimbursement strategy from CMS. Mark Sendak of the Duke Institute for Health Innovation suggested there be incentive payments like Congress did with electronic health records in a 2009 law.

Advocacy group the AI Healthcare Coalition called for a permanent Medicare payment pathway for AI in a statement for the record.

Care denials in the crosshairs: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were wary of AI being used to deny care en masse.

Wyden suggested that HHS might have a future role in overseeing algorithms used in processes like prior authorization. Crapo said that improper denials or delays in care “warrant government scrutiny.”

A cost-saver? Both Democrats and Republicans were optimistic that AI could help reduce costs as Congress looks to rein in rising spending.

“Perhaps we’ll actually be able to bend the proverbial cost curve down in health care. We’ve tried seemingly everything else in Washington,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said.