CMS To Extend Meaningful Use Hardship Exemption Deadline
Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.
Last month, CMS announced that about 44,000 health care providers submitted hardship exemption applications for the meaningful use program before the July 1 deadline (iHealthBeat, 9/30). The deadline for eligible hospitals was April 1.
A CMS spokesperson noted that the majority of applications were submitted by first-time attesters who experienced difficulty with their 2014 certified EHR system (Perna, Healthcare Informatics, 10/7).
The hardship application extension follows news reports that a technical glitch in the meaningful use program could inappropriately penalize physicians who recently adopted EHR systems. According to the reports, CMS will not be able to register until mid-October whether providers with new EHR systems can meet meaningful use requirements. Therefore, providers who adopted EHR systems for the first time this year likely will not have their reports registered by the Oct. 1 deadline.
CMS will withhold 1% of Medicare payments for 2015 for providers who miss the deadline. Lawmakers and stakeholders had called on CMS to fix the glitch.
However, CMS had said that providers had sufficient warning to attest to meaningful use by the deadline and could have avoided the penalties if they had filed for hardship exemptions. The agency estimated that only a few providers were affected by technical glitch (iHealthBeat, 9/30).
Details of New Hardship Application Deadline
In a regulation and guidance update, CMS said it plans to give both eligible providers and hospitals until Nov. 30 to file hardship exemption applications (Healthcare Informatics, 10/7).
Specifically, CMS said it would "reopen the submission period for hardship exemption applications for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals to avoid the 2015 Medicare payment adjustments for not demonstrating meaningful use of certified electronic health record technology" (CMS update, 10/7). According to Health Data Management, the extension is only for providers who have been hampered by delays in 2014 Edition CEHRT availability, as well as eligible professionals who were unable to attest by Oct. 1 and eligible hospitals that were unable to attest by July 1 using the flexibility options provided CMS' final rule (Goedert, Health Data Management, 10/7).
American Medical Association Reaction
In an emailed statement, the American Medical Association praised CMS' decision to "reopen the meaningful use hardship [exemption] submission period." AMA wrote that the move "will allow more physicians to avoid an unfair meaningful use financial penalty in 2015" and "provides necessary relief as many physicians are struggling to meet a number of reporting mandates to avoid multiple penalties" (AMA statement, 10/7).
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