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CMS Releases New Application Process for MU Hardship Exemptions

January 22, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has launched a new, streamlined hardship application process for providers who feel they should be exempt from financial penalties for failing to meet requirements of the meaningful use program.  

CMS said the new hardship exception process will reduce burden on clinicians, hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs). These changes are a result of recent Medicare legislation—the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA)—and the agency’s ongoing efforts to improve the program, CMS said.

In late December, President Obama signed the new hardship exemption bill into law, designed to 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. The legislation enables CMS to grant hardships not just on a case-by-case basis, but also to 'categories' with the deadline of March 15, 2016 for eligible professionals (EPs) and April 1, 2016 for eligible hospitals (EHs), after which time CMS would still have the case-by-case authority to grant hardship exemptions until July 1, 2016.

Following the signing of the bill, there appeared to be some confusion regarding the legislation’s language. For instance, a Dec. 22 Politico morning eHealth report said that the bill “doesn't clearly outline which categories of eligible professionals would be newly eligible for hardship exemptions this year.”

CMS further said that the agency has heard from stakeholders that they would like a more efficient approach for submitting applications from groups of providers. As such, following Congress’ efforts in PAMPA, CMS said it has reviewed its administrative authorities and determined that groups of providers may apply for a hardship exception on a single application. Under the group application, multiple providers and provider types may apply together using a single submission. The hardship exception categories are the same as those applicable for the individual provider application, CMS said.

The new applications and instructions for a hardship exception from the meaningful use program 2017 payment adjustment are now available here. Additionally, the deadline for EPs to submit Reconsideration forms for the 2016 payment adjustment, based on the 2014 EHR reporting period, is Feb. 29th, 2016.

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