Earlier this week, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (S. 2425), according to a White House press release.
S. 2425 covers legislation regarding Medicare payments for certain rehabilitation technologies, such as wheelchairs and other equipment. However, most notably, this law makes it easier for the government to award hardship exceptions to eligible hospitals, eligible providers, and critical access hospitals that are unable to attest to certain aspects of meaningful use:
S. 2425, the “Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act,” which makes changes to Medicare payments for certain complex rehabilitation technology and radiation therapy services, provide flexibility in applying a hardship exception from meaningful use of electronic health records, and improve Medicare and Medicaid program integrity.
Additionally, the language of the law eliminates any room for interpretation that would otherwise alter the meaning of the law. Furthermore, Congress simplified the language of the law to eliminate any confusion in its interpretation.
The passage of this bill and its signing into law is a significant win for several healthcare providers who otherwise would not have been able to attest to meaningful use.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed modifications to the Stage 2 Meaningful Use rule and proposed its final leg of the program, the Stage 3 Meaningful Use rule. However, these rules were not released until October 6 of this year, leaving providers little time to prepare for the new meaningful use attestation requirements, which must be submitted between January 4 2016 and February 29.
Several professional organizations and industry stakeholders expressed grievances with the meaningful use modifications rule.
For example, prior to the passage of S. 2425, the American Medical Association (AMA) urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide meaningful use hardship exceptions to those entities that needed one. AMA did so on October 1—mere days before the meaningful use modifications rule was released—because it felt as though providers needed more time to adjust to the impending changes.
“The AMA has regularly stressed that CMS must finalize Meaningful Use modifications well ahead of Oct. 1 to provide the time that physicians need to plan for and accommodate these changes, yet CMS has continued to delay finalizing this rule,” said AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD. “As a result, many physicians who were counting on this flexibility will be subject to financial penalties under the rules currently in place.”
AMA took further grievance with the meaningful use timelines. Specifically, AMA believes there should be a delay in Stage 3 due to the fact that so few providers have managed to attest to Stage 2, mirroring a common trope throughout the healthcare industry.
CMS recently released modifications to Stage 2 to make modest improvements, though some new requirements will cause still more physicians to fail. Simultaneously CMS laid out more challenging requirements for Stage 3. Rather than build on the modest improvements made to Stage 2, CMS reverted back to the same fundamental flaws in the previous version of the program by focusing heavily on measure thresholds and excessive documentation requirements rather than improving interoperability. Relying so heavily on the failed construct of Stage 2 will only guarantee continued failure in Stage 3.
However, CMS has shown no sign in delaying either stage of the meaningful use program. As attestation deadlines and the mandatory 2018 start date for Stage 3 draw nearer, tensions will likely continue between CMS and its meaningful use critics