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Senators Introduce Legislation to Provide EHR Program Relief

July 14, 2016
by Heather Landi
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Six U.S. Senators introduced a bill that aims to provide regulatory flexibility to providers and hospitals operating under the meaningful use program by easing reporting requirements and instituting a 90-day reporting period.

The bill also extends the ability for eligible providers and hospitals to apply for hardship exemptions from the meaningful use requirements.

The sponsors of the bill, S. 3173, the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Regulatory Relief Act, are the same six legislators who are members of the Senate REBOOT group and authored a 2013 report, “REBOOT: Re-examining the Strategies Needed to Successfully Adopt Health IT,” outlining their concerns with the meaningful use program.

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sponsored the bill and stated in a summary document that “regulatory flexibility is necessary to help hospitals and medical providers focus on transitioning into the new, patient-focused payment policies created by Congress by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), instead of the “check-the-box” meaningful use program.”

In the EHR Regulatory Relief Act, the Senators propose to shorten the reporting period for eligible physicians and hospitals from 365 days to 90 days and removes the all-or-nothing approach to meaningful use by creating a new threshold that requires eligible hospitals or eligible providers to meet no more than 70 percent of the required metrics to satisfy meaningful use requirements.

The bill also extends current law providing hardship relief to providers for 2016 and 2017 to include insufficient internet connectivity, natural disasters, unexpected practice closures, vendor and certification issues and lack of face-to-face patient interaction.

The Senators stated that feedback from the hospital and physician community “resoundingly indicates that the burdens of compliance with the meaningful use requirements are negatively affecting hospitals and medical providers.”

In a prepared statement, Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said, “This legislation will help ease the burden of the meaningful use program for doctors and hospitals who have told me they want to spend more time caring for patients instead of trying to comply with government regulations.  

“Specifically, it will give hospitals the same flexibility that Congress passed for doctors with overwhelming bipartisan support last April, and it will give doctors and hospitals the certainty of law that the 90-day reporting window for meaningful use proposed by CMS earlier this month is here to stay. I look forward to Senate passage of this legislation as we continue to work to pull the electronic medical records system out of the ditch, transforming it into something that doctors and hospitals look forward to rather than dread,” Alexander said.

In late April, the senators wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt to request input on a draft bill. According to a statement from the six Senators, they developed the version of the bill that was introduced this week based on the feedback they received.

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