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From Health Law Daily, February 2, 2015

CMS announces intention to ease up on EHR incentive program requirements

By Bryant Storm, J.D.

CMS announced its intention to engage in rulemaking to modify electronic health record (EHR) incentive program reporting requirements, in order to ease the reporting burden on providers. According to a CMS blog post, following provider pressure and concerns about compliance with the EHR deadlines, the agency now intends to release new rulemaking this spring which may result in changes to the EHR program in the form of a realignment of EHR reporting with the calendar year (CY), modified long-term program goals, or a shortened 90 day reporting period.

Meaningful use. The EHR incentive program provides financial enticement to eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) in order to encourage the adoption and implementation of EHR technology. In order to receive the incentive payments, providers must meet the CMS definition of “meaningful use” of EHR for particular reporting periods. As a result of provider concerns and set-backs in the EHR program, provider organizations and Congress made efforts to persuade CMS to relax the reporting obligations of the program. Among the recommendations for change was a piece of proposed legislation known as the Flex-IT Act, which called for a shortened 90-day reporting period in place of the program’s current full year reporting obligation for 2015 (see Congress asks HHS to cut providers more slack on meaningful use, December 19, 2014).

Proposals. The CMS announcement indicates that the agency is currently considering proposals to alter the reporting periods so that they align with the CY in order to give eligible hospitals more time to incorporate 2014 Edition software. Additionally, CMS is considering long-term changes to “match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers’ reporting burdens.” In keeping with the recommendations of the congressional proposal of the Flex-IT Act, CMS is also considering shortening the reporting period for 2015 down to a three-month or 90 day period. The CMS announcement makes clear that the proposed rulemaking will be distinct from the Stage 3 Proposed rule, which is expected to be released in early March.

Response. According to an American Hospital Association (AHA) release, Linda Fishman, AHA senior vice president of public policy analysis and development, said that the CMS announcement was “welcome news as it would promise much needed flexibility in the meaningful use program.” Fishman added, “Given that we are well into fiscal year 2015, it’s crucial that CMS release a final rule including a 90-day reporting period, as quickly as possible.” Similarly, Steven J. Stack, President-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA) voiced support for the CMS announcement in a statement and expressed the AMA’s hopes that the rule would be issued soon in order to “provide the flexibility needed to allow more physicians to successfully participate in the Meaningful Use program.” Stack also expressed the AMA’s desire to have the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) “address problems with interoperability and support technologies that provide the ability for information to be exchanged, incorporated and presented to a physician in a contextual and meaningful manner.”

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