Meaningful Use Hardship Exception Deadline Extended

Ken Terry

February 26, 2016

The deadline to apply for a hardship exception to the meaningful use requirements for 2015 has been extended to July 1 for both physicians and hospitals, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today. Previously, the deadline was March 15 for eligible professionals (EPs) and April 1 for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals.

In a brief statement sent to reporters, CMS explained that it was extending the deadline "so providers have sufficient time to submit their applications to avoid adjustments to their Medicare payments in 2017." Those adjustments are based on the performance of EPs and hospitals in the 2015 electronic health records (EHR) incentive program.

In January, CMS posted new, streamlined hardship exception forms that reduce the amount of information that EPs and hospitals must submit to apply for an exception. Those have not changed, except for the new deadline.

The key change that occurred in January is that CMS gave providers the right to apply for a blanket exception if they did not have time to report on the meaningful use metrics for the required 90-day period in 2015. Some providers were unable to report because CMS did not release its final rule on stage 2 meaningful use changes until early October. By the time the rules came out, there were less than 90 days left to measure performance.

Congress required CMS to offer physicians the blanket exception to meaningful use in the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA), which was enacted December 28, 2015. Other categories in the hardship exception application include insufficient Internet connectivity, extreme and uncontrollable circumstances, EHR certification/vendor issues, and lack of face-to-face patient interaction.

PAMPA also mandates that CMS consider hardship exceptions for categories of EPs and hospitals. Previously, the agency handled requests for hardship exceptions on a case-by-case basis. But in the new hardship exception request form, CMS allows multiple providers and provider types to apply as a group, using a single submission.

The deadline for attesting to meaningful use, meanwhile, has shifted from February 29 to March 11. CMS postponed that cutoff, not only to give providers more time to attest to meaningful use, but also to align the meaningful use deadline with that of the Physician Quality Reporting System. The alignment of dates gives physicians an opportunity to report once to the two programs, which now have the same quality measures.

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