MU confusion, frustration continues

December 6, 2014 in Medical Technology

Add this to the list of hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing complaints legions of providers have about the U.S. government’s increasingly exasperating meaningful use program.

Even for those organizations that have done the right thing, a recent failure of a government system may well have them feeling that everything is stacked against them.

On Sept. 19, a report from Politico revealed that a technical snafu in Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services’ computer systems could lead to penalties assessed for lack of MU readiness – perhaps to the tune of millions of dollars.

One of the silver linings of CMS’ ostensibly more flexible Aug. 29 meaningful use rule – one that was nonetheless still lambasted by providers for not listening to their pleas for a shorter, 90-day reporting period – was an allowance that organizations could attest using older EHR technology, as long as they did so by Oct. 1.

Still, physicians who implemented such technology realized in mid-September that CMS wouldn’t be able to register their attestations until mid-October. The upshot? They’d effectively miss that Oct. 1 deadline and would be tagged with a 1 percent reduction of their 2015 Medicare payments.

Mark Segal, chair of the EHR Association and vice president at GE Healthcare IT, told Politico that EHR vendors were in touch with providers to ensure they understood that wrinkle: those attesting this year will get 2014 incentives but will be penalized for 2015, he said.

“We can see why they are unhappy,” said Segal.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of other agita to go around when it comes to meaningful use. Well before the glitch that set up well-meaning providers for inappropriate penalties came to light, a whopping 44,000 providers had submitted hardship exemption applications prior to this past summer’s July 1 deadline, according to numbers published by CMS in October.

Among the lawmakers who’ve called on CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to address the glitch that would unfairly assess penalties are Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan. In a Sept. 30 letter to Tavenner, Hagan wrote that these reimbursement penalties would come “through no fault of their own (but) as a direct result of technology problems at CMS.

She cited one Morganton, N.C. practice that had invested $1.3 million in new health IT. It had twice attempted in good faith to attest before CMS’ Oct. 1 deadline, she wrote, but “was unable to do so.” As a result, she said, the optometry/ophthalmology practice was facing $65,000 in penalties – a fact that she called “particularly troubling.”

As Healthcare IT News went to press, CMS was showing no sign it would help providers affected by the flaw. On Oct. 6, Politico reported that Rob Tennant, senior policy advisor at the Medical Group Management Association said that agency didn’t even mention 2015 penalty relief during a call with providers.

“We’ll keep pressing the agency because we think it’s grossly unfair that these new EPs will be unjustly penalized starting Jan. 1,” said Tennant.

Meanwhile, others are simply throwing up their hands as the meaningful use process seems only to grow in its scope, complexity and confusion. As one commenter wrote on a recent Healthcare IT News story:

“I hope ONC does understand that they have lost the war. MU is so complex and expensive that they have lost the providers. I just hope they understand that. Stage 3 is already a bust before it has even started. … Change Stage 3 all you want. We already quit the program. Yeah, and we will take our lumps until the laws are changed, which won’t be long.”

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