CMS Delays Stage 3 Meaningful Use Until 2017

December 06, 2013

Heeding complaints from organized medicine, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that it will delay the Stage 3 requirements of its incentive program for meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) systems until 2017.

Since 2011, physicians have received bonuses from Medicare and Medicaid for demonstrating that they use EHR technology in ways that improve patient care and lower costs. CMS specifies what those ways are. Electronic prescribing is one. Incorporating lab results as structured data is another.

There's more at stake than earning a bonus in the program, though. In 2015, Medicare will begin to penalize physicians who aren't EHR meaningful users, cutting their pay by 1%.

Physicians currently must satisfy the initial set of meaningful-use requirements, dubbed Stage 1. More demanding Stage 2 requirements, which stress the electronic exchange of patient data between providers, originally were scheduled to take effect in January 2013, but CMS delayed them until 2014. They will apply to physicians who ace Stage 1 for at least 2 years beforehand.

Even tougher Stage 3 requirements were supposed to follow in 2016.

Organized medicine has lobbied Congress to stretch out the timetable for both Stage 2 and Stage 3. How can the government implement the third set of requirements unless it has enough time to understand how physicians are faring under Stage 2? For that matter, many physicians are having trouble as it is complying with Stage 1, medical societies have told CMS.

In September, 17 Republican Senators also asked CMS to slow down the pace of the meaningful-use program. They asked for the agency to delay Stage 2 requirements until 2015 for physicians and hospitals that need more time to get ready for them. They noted that providers will be under the gun to upgrade their EHR software in 2014 to comply with Stage 2 specifications.

In a blog post today, officials at CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) stated that CMS proposes extending Stage 2 requirements through 2016. Stage 3 would commence in 2017 for physicians who have satisfied Stage 2 for at least 2 years. CMS would nail down the proposed changes in future regulations.

The delay, the officials said, will allow CMS and ONC to focus on getting providers up to speed on Stage 2 requirements. CMS and ONC also will have more time to figure out how Stage 2 is working as they draft Stage 3. In the process, EHR vendors will have more lead time to develop Stage 3-compliant software.

More information on today's announcement is available on the CMS Web site.

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