Last week, President Obama signed into law a bill (S 2425) that expands providers' eligibility for hardship exemptions to Stage 2 of the meaningful use program, EHR Intelligence reports. The legislation will create a blanket hardship exemption from 2015 meaningful use penalties, which would have been assessed in 2017.
Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments (Heath,EHR Intelligence, 12/30/15)
The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), will grant eligible professionals and hospitals "flexibility in applying the hardship exception for meaningful use for the 2015 EHR reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments."
The legislation will create a blanket hardship exemption from 2015 meaningful use penalties, which would have been assessed in 2017. Eligible professionals will have until March 15 to apply for an exemption, and eligible hospitals will have until April 1.
CMS currently issues exemptions on a case-by-case basis.
The bill includes legislative language from a separate bill (HR 3940) by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). HR 3940 also sought to allow CMS to grant blanket hardship exemptions to eligible professionals and hospitals that are unable to attest to Stage 2 of the meaningful use program because of CMS' delay in releasing the final rule for program modifications for 2015 through 2017 (iHealthBeat, 12/21/15).
Leslie Krigstein, vice president of congressional affairs at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, said the bill will allow providers flexibility and help CMS better facilitate the process of granting hardship exemptions. However, she noted that the law does not address other areas of concern with the program, such as reporting periods, quality measures and the pass-fail construct.
Krigstein said, "It's going to be incumbent on the provider community to work with CMS to ensure meaningful use program participants understand the new pathway set forth by this law and the associated deadlines," adding, "The passage of the law was a culmination of the provider community's advocacy efforts in 2015, which I expect continue into 2016" (Dvorak, FierceEMR, 12/29/15).