Legislation signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 28 offers a hardship exception from meaningful use requirements for the 2015 reporting period. As a result, eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals (EHs) officially have a way to work around — via hardship exception — an associated 3 percent Medicare payment reduction for 2017.
The newly signed Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Dec. 18 as S. 2425, contains a section “ensuring flexibility in applying hardship exception for meaningful use for 2015 EHR reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments.” It specifically gives EPs until March 15, 2016 — and EHs until April 1, 2016 — to apply for an exception.
In early November, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) had introduced the Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act of 2015, which proposed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) be given authority to grant a hardship exception for the 2015 reporting period “due to the delay in timely publication of the Stage 2 meaningful use rule.”
The final Stage 2 rule, which calls for a 90-day reporting period in 2015, was not published in the Federal Register until mid-October, effectively limiting the ability of EPs and EHs to meet the requirement.
Upon passage of S. 2425 in the House of Representatives, Price had issued the following statement:
"A patient-centered health care system relies on the principles of quality and responsiveness. The recent Modifications Rule for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use Program for Electronic Health Records failed to offer physicians and hospitals with enough time to actually comply with the new requirements. Due to the tardiness of the final CMS rule, it is virtually impossible for doctors to meet the requirement deadlines. This much needed relief will make the hardship application process much easier for doctors to avoid penalties stemming from the Administration’s mistake, and thereby provide more time to care for patients."
Note, however, that the hardship exception is not automatically conferred to EPs and EHs. They must still apply to CMS by the above-stated deadlines in 2016. Application instructions have not yet been posted by CMS.
Rep. Price is a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, which has been pushing for a delay of meaningful use Stage 3 in addition to the now-achieved hardship waiver for Stage 2. In a Nov. 20 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Doctors Caucus pointed out that only 12 percent of physicians have met Stage 2 requirements to date.
“[We] believe implementation of more stringent criteria [Stage 3]...is likely to create a chilling effect of further EMR adoption as physicians conclude that the cost of implementation is simply not worth the bureaucratic hassle,” the letter stated. “[A] legislative remedy is the only way to ensure providers are protected from this deeply flawed Stage 3 rule.”
Aside from the meaningful use provision, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act also improves Medicare payments for complex rehabilitation technology and certain radiation therapy services.