CMS adds to meaningful use exemptions

March 13, 2014 in Medical Technology

The federal government has provided relief for healthcare providers via the hardship exemption rule in the Meaningful EHR Incentive Program. Eligible physicians and hospitals can apply for exceptions to anticipated penalties if their EHR vendor has not obtained EHR certification for 2014.

The added flexibility to the exemption rule is likely the result of the difficulties some vendors have had in meeting 2014 criteria, said Jason Fortin, a meaningful use expert and senior advisor of Discovery Development  at Impact Advisors.

It’s not necessarily the vendors’ faults for the delay, he said. They didn’t have much time to get their products ready for 2014, and it was especially difficult for smaller vendors with fewer resources.

There are a couple caveats to this seemingly good news, however.

The application can only be submitted for 2014. And CMS is saying you may apply for the exception, not that you will get the exception, Fortin explained.

[See also: Providers welcome meaningful use relief.]

Hospitals and doctors applying for this hardship exemption will have their application determined on a case-by-case basis. “There are no guarantees,” Fortin added.

Providers will apply this year for exceptions to penalties that would take place in 2016 or later, depending on which stage of meaningful use the applicants are currently in. If the applicant is in Stage 2, the penalties would hit in 2016, if their exception were not granted. For Stage 1 applicants, the penalties would hit in 2015, Fortin said.

“This could be a good safety net,” Fortin said, “but folks should do everything within their power to get the technology in and meet meaningful use in 2014.”

Fortin advises eligible providers to apply “if it looks like it will be close,” just in case they run into implementation or workflow issues; they may need it.

“I think there are going to be a lot of exemptions filed because of vendor readiness,” said Brian Ahier, founder of consultancy Advanced Health Information Exchange Resources.

[See also: New EHR bill would tweak MU requirements.]

But since CMS has yet to review any applications, how easily they exceptions will be granted is anyone’s guess.

“To what degree it works, we’ll see,” Fortin said.

Access CMS guidance here.

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