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Advocacy Groups Weigh in On Possible Stage 2 Timeline Changes

July 25, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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In a week where major healthcare CIOs and CMIOs shared their meaningful use Stage 2 concerns in front of a panel of Senators,  healthcare advocacy groups are weighing in on whether or not the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare &Medicaid Services (CMS) should change the timelines of the EHR Incentive Program.

The American Hospital Association (AHA), a Chicago-based advocacy group for hospitals and healthcare providers, penned an extensive statement, which outlines its support for an expansion of the Stage 2 timelines.

“The AHA believes that HHS can and should take steps to expand the meaningful use timelines and introduce more flexibility into the program. Our recommendations would still allow Stage 2 to start in 2014, but the transition would be more safe and orderly,” the group wrote in its statement, available on its press website.

It’s a similar sentiment to what the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) recommended back in May. AHA recommends:

  •         HHS allow providers at Stage 1 to meet requirements using either the 2011 or 2014 certified Edition EHR
  •         The government extends each stage of meaningful use to no less than three years for all providers
  •         An established 90-day reporting period for the first year of each new stage of meaningful use for all providers
  •         Greater flexibility to providers in meeting Stage 2
  •         A redirect of the electronic clinical quality reporting requirements to focus on a small set of well-tested measures.

The AHA cites several reasons for why this should occur. It says that 2014 is shaping up to be a challenging year for healthcare IT stakeholders with Stage 2 and the transition to the ICD-10 code-set. It says vendors may not be ready for the 2014 changes and hospitals may not be ready to take on the costs. Ultimately, AHA says the “current regulatory structure for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program may distract health care providers from those bigger goals by requiring them to rush implementations of immature EHR technology and focus on meaningful use metrics, rather than care improvements.”

According to FierceEMR, the American Medical Association (AMA) supported the AHA’s comments in a joint letter from both organizations to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Jeffrey Smith, director of public policy at CHIME, told Healthcare Informatics that the awareness of the meaningful use policy is the highest he has ever seen on Capitol Hill. “If you had asked me whether anything will come of this [the desire to change Stage 2 timelines] two months ago [when CHIME recommended the delay], I would have been skeptical, but given the quick actions of the AHA and AMA, it signals a real genuine push.”

The recommended changes from the AHA, AMA, and CHIME differ in what U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently offered at the Senate Committee for Finance hearing. "It would seem to me that we have an opportunity to push the pause button and make sure that the program is working before we continue down a potentially unsustainable path,” Hatch said in prepared statements on meaningful use.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, The National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, says in a prepared statement that “Stage 2 implementation and Stage 3 rulemaking should remain on their intended trajectories, or even be accelerated.”

“Beginning in October, Stage 2 offers important new benefits to patients, including the ability to view, download, and transmit their health information to other caregivers. Stage 3 offers further promise for improving care and quality and lowering costs by focusing on using EHRs to improve health outcomes. These goals cannot and should not be compromised or delayed,” the group said in a statement.