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House Members Push for Stage 3 Delay in Letter to HHS, OMB

September 29, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and 115 other members of the House have written and signed a letter urging Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administrators to delay the final rulemaking for Stage 3 of the meaningful use program. 
 
This letter, led by Ellmers, Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA), and David Scott (D-GA) is the latest push from Congress to delay Stage 3. Recently, during a Senate hearing, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, once again pushed for a delay himself, citing the need to push back the making of a final rule until Jan. 1, 2017 due to physicians telling him they are “terrified” of the impending stage of the program. 
 
This past summer, it was Ellmers herself who introduced H.R. 3309—the Further Flexibility in HIT Reporting and Advancing Interoperability Act (or Flex-IT 2 Act)—which proposed, among other things, to delay Stage 3 rulemaking until at least 2017, or until Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) final rules, or until at least 75 percent of doctors and hospitals are successful in meeting Stage 2 requirements. Meanwhile, industry stakeholder groups, some of whom met with high-level administration officials last week, have also pushed for a Stage 3 delay, despite the rule being sent to OMB for review earlier this month.
 
In a statement released with the letter, Ellmers said, “In my ongoing conversations with those working to comply with meaningful use standards and deadlines, there is a clear consensus among healthcare providers: they are concerned with how they will meet existing mandates of the meaningful use program, many are frustrated by the continued onslaught of regulatory changes and most are desperate for relief.”
 
She continued, "In leading this letter with my colleagues and acquiring a total of 116 signatories, we send a straightforward message to the primary agencies tasked with overseeing implementation of the meaningful use program. It’s time that we focus on interoperability instead of rulemaking to ensure that these products work for our nation’s providers.  If the administration dives into Stage 3 prematurely, we only stand to aggravate providers and vendors who have already experienced ample challenges in meeting attestation deadlines.” 
 
The letter, addressed to OMB Director Shaun Donovan and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, more specifically reads, "Unfortunately, the proposed Stage 3 rule...exacerbates current problematic policies of Stage 2. We should incentivize technology that enables interoperability and improves health outcomes rather than incentivizing technology that counts how many times a provider performs an activity. The additional time would also give policymakers a chance to understand how the private sector performs relative to modifications proposed for program years 2015 to 2017. Taking time to get it right now will certainly pay dividends in the future."  
 
It continues..."While healthcare providers are committed to implementing EHRs, many are becoming disenchanted by the seemingly unrealistic expectations dictated by the meaningful use program. Unfortunately, the frustrations voiced by providers and policymakers regarding the systems deployed in over 80 percent of hospitals and physician offices are real.  According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an estimated 257,000 providers are currently subject to payment adjustments in the 2015 program year for failing to meet the meaningful use program’s requirements. We believe this signals a failure that is indicative of issues outside the hands of health care providers. We believe the solutions to address the provider community’s concerns are well within the Department’s reach and action must be taken now, as we have arrived at a pivotal time in the program."
 

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