On Tuesday this week at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, acting CMS administrator Andy Slavitt publicly stated that the opportunity to sunset the less-than-successful meaningful use program might have come. While many of the goals and desired improvements of the project will live on through new and updated endeavors, Slavitt admitted that “the Meaningful Use program as it has existed will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.”
CIOs have responded with relief to Slavitt’s announcement, arguing that the program increased the technology hardship on facilities without adding much value.
Facilitating Hardship Exemptions
Prior to Slavitt’s announcement, there have been numerous measures to soften meaningful use requirements based on strong and continuing feedback from the AMA and other provider groups. Following a less-than-smooth transition to Meaningful Use Stage 3, CMS has received many complaints and suggestions on how to tweak the program, particularly as providers continued struggling to comply with Stage 2 requirements.
As recently as last month, a provision to the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, (R-Ohio) with bipartisan support, was signed into law to improve the MU program.
The bill aims to “ensure flexibility in applying the hardship exception for meaningful use for the 2015 EHR reporting period,” specifically for hospitals, physicians and other eligible professionals. The law allows CMS to batch applications by categories instead of evaluating on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to simplifying the hardship exemption application review process for CMS, the bill also pushed back the filing deadlines for hardship exemptions from January 1 to March 15 for physicians and April 15 for hospitals. Additionally, any exemption filings received after this date could be accepted on a case-by-case basis by CMS.
Continuing Concerns with Stage 2 and 3
These changes were all intended to remedy push-back from the American Medical Association and other hospital groups against timing and other seemingly unattainable requirements of MU Stage 2.
While Meaningful Use Stage 3 has offered promise in ensuring industry-wide EHR interoperability standards, many have viewed the timetable as squeezed, making it impossible for some providers to attest to many of the requirements.
Despite this extension making it easier for providers to attest to Stage 2 requirements, many concerns remain for Stage 3, especially for providers using smaller EHR technologies (besides Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, etc.).
Now that meaningful use legislation may be phased out, or perhaps left to wither through non-enforcement, many providers will breathe a sigh of relief. However, the concept of value-based incentives will continue. Hopefully new programs that emerge will give greater flexibility to health care providers in how they are carried out.