CMS changes to Meaningful Use program mostly welcome

April 16, 2015
by Lisa Chamoff, Contributing Reporter
A proposed rule released Friday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) aims to make it easier for hospitals and physician practices to achieve meaningful use of electronic health records.

Health care leaders applauded the proposed changes and say they are a step in the right direction, but acknowledge there is more work to be done.

One welcome change is to the reporting period for the Meaningful Use incentive program, which in 2015 would be a 90-day reporting period aligned with the calendar year instead of the fiscal year for both hospitals and physicians. The EHR reporting period in 2016 would also align with the calendar year. Many in the industry had said the 365-day reporting period in 2015 was too onerous.

Another big change is to the Stage 2 patient engagement aspect. Previously, to meet Meaningful Use requirements, providers needed to have 5 percent of their patients download, view and transmit their medical records. Under the proposed rule, only a single patient would have to do that.

In a fact sheet, CMS says the intention of the proposed rule is to align Stage 1 and Stage 2 objectives with Stage 3, to reduce complexity, and to simplify providers’ reporting.

“These modifications would allow providers to focus more closely on the advanced use of certified EHR technology to support health information exchange and quality improvement,” CMS said.

Linda Fishman, senior vice president for public policy analysis and development for the American Hospital Association said in a statement Friday that the proposed rule provides some “much-needed relief.”

“The shortened reporting period that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposes gives hospitals more time to transition to Stage 2 and increases the likelihood they will meet CMS’s timetable” Fishman said. “However, the inclusion of numerous additional program changes at this late date risks causing confusion and added burden for hospitals on top of the elements proposed in the Stage 3 rule.”

The proposed rule, particularly the reduction in Stage 2 objectives, would also provide some relief for radiologists.

“For radiologists in general, if they’re planning to comply with Meaningful Use, these proposed changes will make it easier to do that.” Michael Peters, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the American College of Radiology told DOTmed News. “It’s a mixed bag, but a lot of the changes were welcome and overall it will be beneficial with a few tweaks.”

There are still some disadvantages, Peters says. For example, the 90-day reporting period is not also implemented in 2016. Another negative is that CMS is not planning to have its attestation system ready for Jan. 1, 2016. So newcomers to the program won’t have time to attest to avoid penalties, though they will get the money back after attesting, he says.