In recent months, many healthcare organizations have expressed concerns over the Meaningful Use attestation reporting period for 2015. Providers have struggled with certain aspects of the program, including patient engagement and the functionality of electronic health records, leading to potential fines from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Now, CMS has announced plans to heed the call of industry stakeholders and propose rulemaking that would shorten the reporting period from 365 days to 90 days.
Easing the requirements on providers
In December 2014, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and 28 of her colleagues penned a letter to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The lawmakers voiced their concerns regarding providers' and hospitals' abilities to participate in Meaningful Use and requested a shortened, 90-day reporting period in 2015.
"Many stakeholders decried the 365-day reporting period for 2015 on the grounds that it was too difficult to meet."
A month later, Ellmers and four bipartisan co-sponsors reintroduced the H.R. 270 bill, also known as the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (FLEX-IT) Act. Its aim was to shorten the attestation period in 2015 to the desired 90 days. With only 4 percent of eligible providers and less than 35 percent of eligible hospitals meeting Stage 2 requirements in 2014, it was clear that amendments were necessary to ease the pressure of Meaningful Use.
As CMS announced that roughly 257,000 physicians would be penalized in 2015 for failing the meet Meaningful Use last year, the agency was well-positioned to introduce new rules to increase the number of successful providers in the program.
Reducing the timeframe for eligible professionals
A Jan. 29 blog post from Patrick Conway, M.D., deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer at CMS, explained the agency's plans to pursue additional rulemaking that could lead to more lenient Meaningful Use requirements in 2015. This includes the 90-day reporting period replacing the original full-year interval.
"The new rule, expected this spring, would be intended to be responsive to provider concerns about software implementation, information exchange readiness, and other related concerns in 2015," Conway wrote. "It would also be intended to propose changes reflective of developments in the industry and progress toward program goals achieved since the program began in 2011."
The proposals that CMS is considering include:
- Realigning hospital EHR reporting periods to the calendar year to allow more opportunities to incorporate 2014 Edition software
- Tweaking aspects of the program to match long-term goals, reduce complexities and minimize reporting burdens on providers
- Shortening the reporting period in 2015 to 90 days to accommodate for the proposed changes.
Receiving support from the industry
The proposals have already drawn support from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, which has argued for additional flexibility for hospitals. While a healthy number of facilities did attest to Meaningful Use in 2014, they did so with rigid standards from CMS. The potential changes could facilitate future endeavors in the agency's program.
This move reflects CMS' commitment to creating a system that both benefits and meets the needs of participating providers. With a shortened reporting period, the healthcare industry could experience much greater attestation numbers in 2015.