In an exclusive interview with Healthcare Informatics, Russell P. Branzell, CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), says that few providers will be able to benefit from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reopening the period in which eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals (EHs) can apply for a meaningful use hardship exception.
Speaking exclusively to Healthcare Informatics, Branzell said that those who can benefit from the hardship exception include a narrow band of EPs and EHs that didn’t attest last year, were going to try to attest by Oct. 1, and use 2011 certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT). “We’re trying to find someone who even is eligible for this based on the criteria they let out,” Branzell says.
For the hardship exception, CMS made the new deadline Nov. 30, 2014. The original deadline was April 1, 2014 for EHs and July 1, 2014 for EPs. The agency sent out a notice that said the added hardship exception application period is for EPs and EHs who were unable to attest by October 1 and July 1 respectively because their fully implement 2014 Edition certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT) was not available.
The fact this has had to happen, Branzell says, is concerning because part of the rationale was that the CMS system wasn’t accepting attestation data. “The federal government’s computer system for meaningful use couldn’t accept (physicians’) information,” he says. “Those trying to do something need to reapply for a hardship because the government system didn’t work.”
Branzell adds that those who apply and get accepted for the hardship exception many EPs and EHs aren’t even eligible for incentives. “They don’t get penalized but they don’t get the incentives. It’s a net neutral,” he says.
He argues that a macro widespread change that affects smaller physician groups, medium health systems, and integrated care delivery networks alike is significantly more necessary. He says CHIME will continue to push the “Flexibility in Health IT Reporting Act,” introduced Representatives Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jim Matheson (D-UT) a few weeks ago.
UPDATE: The American Medical Association (AMA) has chimed in on the hardship exception announcement. Robert Wah, M.D., president of the AMA, was more supportive of the move by the CMS in his statement. “The AMA is pleased that the CMS has taken a step towards addressing AMA concerns and has decided to reopen the Meaningful Use hardship submission period. Medicare physicians who were unable to fully implement their new certified electronic health record software due to delays in receiving it and who were unable to successfully attest by the October 1 deadline can apply for the exception through November 1st. This change will allow more physicians to avoid an unfair Meaningful Use financial penalty in 2015,” Wah said.