House Bill Would Lighten Meaningful Use Burden on Hospitals

Ken Terry

July 06, 2017

A bipartisan bill that would apparently open the door for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ease the burden on hospitals of meaningful use reporting was introduced in the US House of Representatives on June 30.

Its sponsors include Reps. Michael C. Burgess, MD (R-TX), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

Described as an effort to "amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to reduce the volume of future electronic health-related significant hardship requests," the bill would affect only healthcare providers who are still subject to the government's electronic health record (EHR) incentive program, known as "meaningful use," said Robert Tennant, senior policy advisor to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

Physicians are no longer required to participate in the Medicare meaningful use program, which for them has been subsumed by the Quality Payment Program (QPP) of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Those doctors who are eligible to participate in the Medicaid portion of meaningful use are not subject to penalties if they don't participate, Tennant said. While the bill might facilitate their meaningful use reporting, he said, any hardship exceptions would not affect them. Therefore, it appears that the new bill applies only or mostly to hospitals, he stated.

Hospitals are still subject to the EHR incentive program, and they will soon have to comply with the provisions of meaningful use stage 3. They must already do so this year if they have a 2015 Edition certified EHR. Tennant speculated that the new bill might exempt some hospitals from those requirements and could allow HHS to "make some wholesale changes to the hospital meaningful use program."

Tennant doesn't think the legislation has any relevance to the Quality Payment Program, which includes the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). A portion of MIPS, known as Advancing Care Information, is the successor to the meaningful use program for physicians. CMS recently released its proposed 2018 rule for QPP, which governs both hospital-based and ambulatory care physicians.

In a joint statement, however, the sponsors of the bill spoke about it as if it applied to doctors. "Electronic health records place an enormous burden on physicians, and have failed to live up to their promise to improve health care delivery for patients," Rep. Burgess said. "Unfortunately, current law places an arbitrary requirement on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to impose an increasingly stringent burden on physicians' use of these records systems. This bipartisan legislation provides a common-sense solution for a burden that negatively impacts both patients and providers, resulting in better care." 

The QPP proposed rule, to be finalized this fall, will lead to significant changes in the regulations for MIPS and advanced alternative payment models, Tennant noted. "I see this [new bill] flowing down the same stream [for hospitals]," he said.

Considering that Rep. Burgess is a key voice on healthcare in the House, and that the bill's sponsors are bipartisan, Tennant added, "I wouldn't be surprised if it passed."

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