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CHIME’s Branzell: “A Good Chance” That MU-Related Bill Might Pass

September 17, 2014
by Mark Hagland
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CHIME CEO Russ Branzell expressed hope that a bill introduced in Congress might achieve adjustment of MU Stage 2 reporting timeframes

In an interview with Healthcare Informatics, Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), said he believed that a bill introduced into the House of Representatives on Sep. 16 by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina) and Rep. James Matheson (D-Utah) to amend the reporting requirements for Stage 2 of meaningful use, had a good chance of passage in Congress.

The bill, called the “Flexibility in Health IT Reporting Act,” or “Flex-IT Act” (H.R. 5481) would require a 90day reporting period in 2015 for Stages 1 and 2 rather than a full-year reporting period, as specified in a final rule published by the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on Aug. 29.

In a statement on her office’s website, Rep. Ellmers said the following, in relation to H.R. 5481: “Healthcare providers have faced enormous obstacles while working to meet numerous federal requirements over the past decade… The meaningful use program has many important provisions that seek to usher our healthcare providers into the digital age. But instead of working with doctors and hospitals, HHS is imposing rigid mandates that will cause unbearable financial burdens on the men and women who provide care to millions… The Flex-IT Act will provide the flexibility providers need while ensuring that the goal of upgrading their technologies is still being managed.”

Speaking of the introduction of the bill, CHIME’s Branzell told HCI, “We wanted everybody to know that a bill has been commissioned by those two congresspeople to start the process. It was just introduced yesterday. And when relief was denied to us via the final rule, we knew we needed legislative relief,” he said of the joint lobbying of CHIME and its allies of members of Congress around this issue.

Russell P. Branzell

The bill, Branzell noted, “is very narrow in scope; it gives us a 90-day reporting period in 2015, instead of a 365-day period. That starts on October 1 for hospitals and January 1 for providers; that’s the beginning of the fiscal year for CMS”—the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Our hope is that the bill goes through the legislative process very quickly, and is given a vote within the next 48 hours.” He noted that Congress will adjourn on Oct. 19, and not return again until Nov. 17.

Have the congresspeople who have introduced this bill into the House expressed what they think the chances of its passage are? “I don’t think they ever specify something like that,” Branzell said. “We’ve talked to several staffers who believe we have as good a chance as any to get this passed.”

And if the bill does not pass? “We’d just have to keep fighting the battle,” Branzell said. “There is still a chance the agencies could change their mind,” and issue another notice of proposed rule-making.

Indeed, the leaders of CHIME and 16 other healthcare associations and organizations authored a letter just the day before, on Sep. 16, to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, asking her to take action to readjust the parameters around the requirements for Stage 2 reporting under the meaningful use program under the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act.