In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, several ranking Republican Senators called for a one-year extension for healthcare providers to complete the second stage of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) incentive program, much to the delight of at least one industry association.
“We are concerned that the regulatory structure of the program has created significant time pressure in 2014, and progressing to Stage 2 may not be feasible for all participants,” the Senators write in the letter. They mention the time pressures that both providers and vendors are facing with the upgrades to technology in order to attest to Stage 2. They say, “This time pressure has raised questions about whether such a short period for Stage 2 is in the best long-term interest of the program.”
In addition, the Senators say they are concerned the onset of Stage 2 will “further the digital divide” between small, rural providers and larger healthcare organizations. They also believe an aggressive Stage 2 timeline could stifle innovation, and increase medical errors.
“If the goal is to improve care by achieving broad and meaningful utilization of EHRs, providing sufficient time to ensure a safe, orderly transition through Stage 2 is critical to having stakeholder buy-in, a necessary component of long-term success,” they write.
A barrage of 17 Republican senators sent the letter including Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Also included were Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
The letter was met with overwhelming praise by at least one organization advocating for an extended Stage 2 timeline. The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), in a statement, praised the senators for their letter, saying an extension would give providers sufficient time to meet new program requirements, while maintaining software development and deployment deadlines.
“These 17 Senators have evaluated program data, heard from constituents and acted in a responsible manner by issuing their request to HHS Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius,” Russ Branzell, CEO of CHIME, said in a statement. “The tenor of Senate’s letter echoes that of CHIME and others who desperately want this program to succeed, but also know that some changes are needed.”
Other associations have called on HHS to delay or extend the Stage 2 timeline including the American Hospital Association (AHA), Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS), the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), and the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP).