Electronic Health Records

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Meaningful Use Hardship Exception Bill Advances in Congress

Senate bill S.2425 amends titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act, securing hardship exceptions for the EHR Incentive Programs.

By Sara Heath

Congress has passed a bill that may make the EHR Incentive Programs attestation a little easier this year.

On Friday, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed S.2425, which would amend titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act, improving compensation payments for rehabilitation technology and securing hardship exemptions for meaningful use for the 2015 reporting period.

Introduced to Congress by Senator Rob Portman, this bill seeks to modify certain aspects of the Social Security Act to ensure hardship exemptions for certain providers that otherwise would not be able to attest to meaningful use due to extenuating circumstances.

Specifically, the bill eliminates the applications of the payment schedule for wheelchair accessories and applies transitional payment rules for certain radiation therapies under the Medicare physician fee schedule.

Most notably, however, the bill makes certain provisions regarding hardship exemptions leading to the 2017 meaningful use attestation period. First, it ensures flexibility for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals that need to attest a hardship exemption for 2015.

Furthermore, the recently-passed bill clarifies language of the Social Security Act in order to eliminate alternative interpretations of the law.

For example, S.2425 calls for strengthening of the entire Medicaid program’s integrity by addressing these hardship exemptions. The bill also eliminates confusing language from the Social Security Act to ensure proper adherence to the law.

Additionally, the bill reinforces penalties for fraudulent Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP payments by clarifying the language in that section of the Social Security Act. These clarifications add a paragraph stating that those who knowingly and purposefully purchase a Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP member’s identification number will receive no more than 10 years in prison or may be fined $500,000 (or $1,000,000 in the case of corporate theft).

Lastly, the bill adds language that encourages providers to share more data between both the Medicare and Medicaid agencies. This data matching program, commonly known as the Medi-Medi Data Match Program, facilitates the flow of health data between the two agencies.

The passage of this bill may come as welcomed legislation by many professional healthcare associations. Since the October 6 publication of the Meaningful Use final rule, which included Stage 2 modifications and the Stage 3 rules, several key industry stakeholders have spoken out in protest.

These professional associations, such as the American Medical Association and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives have submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Both organizations strongly believe that Stage 3 Meaningful Use needs to be delayed because a majority of healthcare providers have not managed to attest to Stage 2. Additionally, both organizations maintain that CMS must make modifications to Stage 3 in order for it to better serve patients and the industry at large.

Almost immediately following the publication of the Final Rule, Congressman Lamar Alexander, the Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, spoke out against the Stage 3 rule as well.

The administration has a tin ear. We asked: ‘Why spend a year modifying rushed up mistakes? Why not spend a year getting it right in the first place?’ They listened but they did not hear. They’ve missed a golden opportunity to develop bipartisan support in Congress and throughout the country for an electronic health records system that would genuinely help patients. Instead, they’ve rushed ahead with a rule against the advice of some of the nation’s leading medical institutions and physicians.

Considering the fact that CMS appears to be marching forward with its Stage 3 timeline, the passage of this bill shows Congress’ efforts to work within the meaningful use program in order to make it more manageable for providers.

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