Medicare to Shorten Meaningful Use Reporting Period

January 29, 2015

Bowing to pressure from organized medicine and its allies in Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that it is preparing to shorten the reporting period for its meaningful use incentive program for electronic health record (EHR) systems in 2015 from 12 months to 90 days.

Patrick Conway, MD, the chief medical officer for CMS and its deputy administrator for innovation and quality, wrote in an agency blog today that the "intended changes would help to reduce the reporting burden on providers."

At stake for physicians and other clinicians is the prospect of a Medicare penalty if they fail to demonstrate to CMS that they satisfied the incentive program's requirements, which bumped up to a tougher Stage 2 last year. A shorter reporting period would make compliance easier because physicians would have to toe the government's digital line for only three months. In addition, they could schedule their reporting period for the latter half of 2015, giving them more time to implement and master EHR systems certified under Stage 2.

In 2015, Medicare is reducing reimbursement for some 260,000 clinicians by 1% because they did not demonstrate EHR meaningful use in previous years.

To avert another round of mass penalties, a bipartisan group of House members last week introduced a bill that would shrink the meaningful use reporting period to 90 days in 2015. Medical societies have lobbied Congress to give them this break as well as suspend Medicare penalties in the incentive program until it becomes more physician-friendly. The American Medical Association, for example, has complained that EHRs are hard to use and not interoperable enough for physicians to share data with each other as required under Stage 2.

CMS said it would issue draft regulations this spring to not only shorten the EHR reporting period to 90 days for individual clinicians, but also simplify other aspects of the incentive program. After the agency publishes the draft regulations, it will accept comments from the public for a yet unspecified time before issuing a final version.

AMA President-elect Steven Stack, MD, said his association welcomed today's CMS announcement.

"EHRs are intended to help physicians improve care for their patients," Dr Stack said in a news release, "but unfortunately, today's EHR certification standards and the stringent requirements of the meaningful-use program do not support that goal and decrease efficiency."

Likewise, Ray Quintero, vice president of government relations for the American Osteopathic Association, told Medscape Medical News that "overall we're pleased that CMS has been listening to stakeholders."

Anders Gilberg, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Medical Group Management Association, urged CMS to quickly issue the promised regulations "to give physician practices the confidence they need to continue participating in this program."

"The number of eligible professionals successfully attesting for Stage 2 of the program in 2014 were sharply down from those attesting for Stage 1, making significant changes to meaningful use essential," Gilberg said in a news release.

CMS noted that the proposed changes for 2015 have nothing to do with draft regulations the agency expects to issue, perhaps as early as March, on Stage 3 requirements for EHR meaningful use.

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


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