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A New Dose of Realism at CMS Over Meaningful Use?

January 30, 2015
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Did Thursday’s news out of CMS signal a major shift towards greater realism on the part of federal healthcare officials? Provider association leaders can’t be blamed for hoping so

The news out of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Jan. 29 may not have been completely unexpected, but it was dramatic enough to capture immediate attention, as well as praise from provider associations. That’s because the federal agency announced Thursday that it was proposing that hospitals and eligible providers be allowed to shorten their required reporting period from a full year to 90 days—something that provider groups had been appealing to CMS for months to allow.

This was big news, as the proposed change, announced by CMS deputy administrator Patrick Conway, M.D., via a blogpost, has been one of the key short-term demands being pushed forward by a spectrum of healthcare provider associations, whose members had found the prospect of a full-year reporting period for MU in 2015 to be particularly burdensome and troubling.

Not surprisingly, provider leaders were ecstatic at the prospect. Thursday morning, Russ Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME (the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives), told me, “CHIME is absolutely thrilled with CMS’ blog announcement… We appreciate them listening to the industry and supporting meaningful use in advancement.”

And in a more formal statement Thursday morning, CHIME released a statement saying in part, “CHIME applauds CMS for recognizing the pressing need to bring immediate flexibility to the meaningful use program in 2015. Our members have been steadfast advocates for the value of a 90-day period to foster interoperability and improve care coordination through broad program participation and EHR [electronic health record] optimization,” the statement said. “We are pleased that CMS has announced their intent to make a number of changes to the program—in addition to a shortened reporting period—to reduce complexity and lessen providers’ reporting burden. Meaningful use has the potential to be a transformative program for the nation’s healthcare delivery system, and we commend CMS for recognizing the need for a course correction.”

What’s more, the 25-association Flex-IT Association also exulted in the news, releasing a statement saying that “The members of the Flex-IT Coalition commend CMS for the announcement made this morning, which will allow more providers to engage in the meaningful use program and adapt new technologies. It is clear that our concerns have been heard and action is underway,” the Flex-IT Coaition said in a statement, also released on Jan. 29.

That praise was particularly important, as that coalition encompasses a very broad range of power and influential provider associations, among them the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, CHIME, HIMSS (the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), the Federation of American Hospitals, the Premier healthcare alliance, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), and numerous other important healthcare associations. MGMA further released its own statement praising the CMS move, also on Thursday.

All these statements reflect something a quite genuine sentiment in healthcare right now, one that combines clear-eyed pragmatism with a strong dash of desperation bordering on panic. That’s because the leaders of hospitals and medical groups are looking at an absolute welter of federal policy mandates, which they honestly are finding increasingly difficult to fulfill, despite a host of good intentions on the part of federal officials.

What many provider leaders might have hoped to believe on Thursday was that federal officials at CMS specifically, and across the panoply of federal healthcare agencies more generally, might be demonstrating a new pragmatism from their side, as demonstrated by the proposed shift from requiring a full-year meaningful use Stage 2 reporting period this year, to accepting a 90-day reporting period, something providers insist is only realistic.

As we all lurch towards Stage 3 of meaningful use, can Thursday’s announcement by CMS be seen as part of a broader shift in thinking on the part of federal healthcare officials? Only time will tell. But one could certainly hope so, given the challenges facing providers ahead, and the need for such pragmatism on the part of the leaders of federal agencies, if those senior officials really want providers to meet a whole range of important and worthy goals. In short, stay tuned to this channel.