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Congress Passes Bill That Would Allow MU Stage 2 Hardship Exemptions

December 21, 2015
by Heather Landi
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Legislation passed the House and Senate on Friday that, if passed into law, will make it easier for healthcare providers to receive hardship exemption from financial penalties for failing to meet Stage 2 meaningful use electronic health record (EHR) requirements in 2015. The bill is now awaiting President Obama’s signature in order to become law.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (S. 2425) and it was passed by both chambers of Congress late last week. The bill was designed to ensure eligible providers “flexibility in applying the hardship exception for meaningful use for 2015 EHR reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments.”

Under the bill, physicians have until March 15 to apply for exemption, and the deadline for hospitals is April 1.

As Leslie Kriegstein, interim vice president of public policy at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), writes in this week's Washington Debrief, "the legislation would allow eligible hospitals and eligible physicians who find it impossible to comply with the modified Stage 2 rule released into the final 90-day reporting period of 2015 to apply under the 'unforeseen circumstances' category. The legislation enables the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to grant hardships not just on a case-by-case basis, but also to 'categories' with the deadline of March 15, 2016 for EPs and April 1, 2016 for EHs, after which time CMS would still have the case-by-case authority to grant hardship exemptions until July 1, 2016.”

Under the current law, CMS can only grant such exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

The bill included legislative language based on H.R. 3940, the Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act, which was sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). In a statement Rep. Price applauded the passage the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act.

"A patient-centered health care system relies on the principles of quality and responsiveness. The recent Modifications Rule for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use Program for Electronic Health Records failed to offer physicians and hospitals with enough time to actually comply with the new requirements. Due to the tardiness of the final CMS rule, it is virtually impossible for doctors to meet the requirement deadlines. This much needed relief will make the hardship application process much easier for doctors to avoid penalties stemming from the Administration’s mistake, and thereby provide more time to care for patients,” Price said.

Sen. Ellmers stated, “By passing this bill on unanimous consent today in the House, Congress is taking a giant step in supplying relief to the provider community – and helping patients receive better, seamless care. Moving forward, this process will now allow doctors to avoid erroneous penalties that would have otherwise caused harm for patients seeking quality care.”

Several healthcare organizations, including the American Medical Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and the American College of Physicians have called on CMS to grant blanket hardship exemptions in 2015 due to the delayed release of the meaningful use modifications rule.

The bill also changes how Medicare pays for power wheelchairs and radiation therapy.




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