Not only is today President’s Day, but did you know it’s also national “Do a Grouch a Favor Day?” While we can all be a grouch from time to time, chances are pretty high that you really fit the profile with all this cold weather and Meaningful Use on the mind. Assuming that’s the case, I’d like to extend a favor to you by delivering a hopeful Meaningful Use message!
A long-awaited announcement
It’s official. On Jan 29th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced plans to “engage in rulemaking” with hopes to ease the burden on providers so they can continue to meet Meaningful Use requirements. The rulemaking alludes to the bipartisan bill Flexibility in IT (Flex-IT) Act of 2014 that was reintroduced this January. The Flex-IT Act urged CMS to shorten the 2015 reporting period back to 90 days.
In their announcement, CMS stated they are “considering” the following changes to the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs:
- Shortening the 2015 reporting period to 90 days to address provider concerns about their ability to fully deploy 2014 Edition software
- Realigning hospital reporting periods to the calendar year to allow eligible hospitals more time to incorporate 2014 Edition software into their workflows and to better align with other quality programs
- Modifying other aspects of the programs to match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers’ reporting burden
In addition to the announcement, Patrick Conway, CMS Deputy Administrator for Innovation & Quality and Chief Medical Officer, added in the CMS blog that “these intended changes would help to reduce the reporting burden on providers, while supporting the long-term goals of the program.” He went on to state that these changes reflect the Department of Health and Human Services’ commitment to “creating a health information technology infrastructure that elevates patient-centered care, improves health outcomes and supports the providers who care for patients.”
CMS plans to pursue these changes through separate rulemaking and not via the Stage 3 proposed rule as originally announced. The current proposed rule will be limited to just Stage 3 and Meaningful Use in 2017 and beyond. The new rulemaking is expected to be released this spring.
A positive reaction
The announcement was met with positive response from multiple healthcare organizations that lobbied for the change.
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who introduced the Flex-It Act, commended CMS on their announcement to engage in rulemaking.
“The additional time and flexibility afforded by these modifications will help hundreds of thousands of providers meet Stage 2 requirements in an effective and safe manner,” Ellmers stated. “The Meaningful Use Program is vital to bringing our health care system into the 21st century, and it is necessary to digitizing patient data so that it can be accessed more efficiently.”
Russell Branzel, President and CEO of CHIME who recognized “the need for a course-correction” applauded the announcement and additionally stated, “Meaningful Use has the potential be a transformative program for the nation’s healthcare delivery system.”
Steven Slack, AMA President-Elect welcomed the CMS announcement while adding that “EHRs are intended to help physicians improve care for their patients, but unfortunately, today’s EHR certification standards and the stringent requirements of the Meaningful Use program do not support that goal and decrease efficiency.”
John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center called the announcement a “positive sign that HHS leaders are listening and responding to stakeholders.” He went on to state that Stage 2 contains numerous goals that require an established ecosystem/marketplace (which hasn’t been proven yet).
“The new timeline gives us the flexibility we need to do these projects right,” Dr, Halamka noted.
What does this all mean?
Whenever CMS states they “intend” to do something, it normally means they will. By announcing a quick turn-around time scheduled for spring, CMS has almost certainly made their decision and is currently considering how to appropriately implement the changes.
However, this doesn’t mean you should pause all of your Meaningful Use operations. The contents of the anticipated ruling are still unknown and will hopefully come to light in the next couple of months. The reporting period will most likely go back to a calendar-quarter but we don’t know if this will be across the board for everyone or only for those who meet certain qualifications. The rules of the program may also change, but we don’t know to what extent.
Still, in the words of one of my favorite classics from recording artist Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long, a long time coming/But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”
What changes do you hope to see? Will you participate in Stage 2 if the reporting period is shortened to 90 days?
Diana Strubler, Senior Product Analyst, Health IT Standards, joined Acumen in 2010 as an EHR trainer then quickly moved into the role of certification and health IT standards subject matter expert. She has successfully led Acumen through three certifications while also guiding our company and customers through the world of Meaningful Use, ICD-10 and PQRS.