The nearly half of Americans who receive health insurance from their employers will soon find themselves on the short end of the stick when it comes to benefiting from innovations in digital health. That's because new federal rules that make it easier for many consumers to use smartphone apps to manage their health don't apply to commercial insurers that offer employer-sponsored health insurance.

Announced early this year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), the rules are designed to help patients easily access and share their medical records and insurance claims data, as well as any of their clinical data owned by an insurer. But as with other CMS rules, the changes apply only to government-sponsored health plans such as Medicare Advantage, state Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs (CHIP), as well as commercial insurers offering plans through the federal marketplace.

If only CMS's new rules applied to employer-sponsored plans, then by July 2021 when the rules take effect, employees would be able to harness control of all of their health care information using the digital apps of their choice. Dozens of apps on the market today enable consumers to access health information stored in their providers' electronic health record (EHR) or held by their insurance company, without having to log into a web portal every time. Many of the apps offer additional capabilities, such as alerting users to overdue medical tests or teeing up educational content specific to their condition.

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