Obama Signs Law to Expand Meaningful Use Hardship Exemptions

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Obama Signs Law to Expand Meaningful Use Hardship Exemptions

Key Points:
Haven’t met your 2015 meaningful use stage 2 reporting requirements yet? No need to worry! Providers can now apply for blanket MU hardship exemptions to avoid the financial penalties in 2017.

Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act
S. 2425, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), aims to improve resident access to healthcare services, as well as expand meaningful use hardship exceptions. Earlier this month, Portman announced the bill had passed in both the House and Senate with bipartisan support and was on its way to the President. On Monday, December 28th, President Obama officially signed S. 2425 into law.

In his statement, Portman said, “‎This bill includes provisions that allow individuals who rely on complex rehabilitative equipment to maintain access to these products, ensures that cancer patients have the option to receive care in their preferred setting, and increases the ability of physicians and hospitals to apply for hardship exemptions from the electronic health record meaningful use requirements.”

In October 2015, CMS modified stage 2 rules to reduce the reporting period from one year to 90 days; however, with less than 90 days left in the year, providers were concerned this would not give them enough time to meet the stage 2 reporting requirements for 2015.

In a recent statement, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) commended the bill, saying, “The recent modifications rule for stage 2 of the meaningful use program for electronic health records failed to offer physicians and hospitals enough time to actually comply with the new requirements…this much-needed relief will make the hardship application process much easier for doctors to avoid penalties stemming from the administration’s mistake, and thereby provide more time to care for patients.”

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), stated, “By passing this bill on unanimous consent today in the House, Congress is taking a giant step in supplying relief to the provider community…moving forward, this process will allow doctors to avoid erroneous penalties that would have otherwise caused harm for patients seeking quality care.”

S. 2425 includes language similar to H.R. 3490, the Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act, which both Price and Ellmers cosponsored. Ellmers also introduced the Flex-IT 2 Act earlier this year in an effort to ease meaningful use burdens, including expanding hardship exemptions.

Providers who are unable to attest to meaningful use for the 2015 reporting period will be receiving Medicare payment adjustments in 2017. With the flexibility provided by the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act eligible hospitals and eligible professionals will be able to more easily obtain a hardship exemption for the 2015 reporting period.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) wrote in a letter obtained by Politico, “Under the law prior to S. 2425, CMS could only grant such exemptions on a case-by-case basis, and that exemption process was inadequate and tedious.”

The blanket exemption will provide some relief for both providers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It will make it easier for EPs and EHs to obtain hardship exemptions and for CMS to review the cases, as it enables groups of providers to apply for exemptions rather than waiting for CMS to review on a case-by-case basis.

To avoid the 2017 penalties, eligible professionals must apply for hardship exemptions by March 15th, 2016, and eligible hospitals must apply by April 1st, 2016.

Read the complete law on Congress.gov.

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Author: Apoorva Anupindi

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