Meaningful use numbers show signs of life, groups still lobby for relief

December 18, 2014 in Medical Technology

Stage 2 meaningful use attestations have shown big improvements recently, but many providers are still struggling. With her Flex-IT Act gaining traction in the House, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., along with 28 fellow members of Congress, have called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to offer relief in the form of a shorter 90-day reporting period.

[See also: Poor MU showing renews calls for change]

The American Medical Association, meanwhile, is “appalled” that more than half of eligible providers will face penalties in 2015.

Speaking before the ONC’s Health IT Policy Committee this past week, Elisabeth Myers, policy and outreach lead at CMS’s Office of eHealth Standards and Services reported some drastic Stage 2 improvements.

[See also: New bill aims to ease MU reporting rules]

Hospitals, which had managed to log just 840 attestations through October, doubled that number between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1 – with 1,681 success stories as of the beginning of the month.

Eligible providers, meanwhile, managed another 5,000 successful attestations over the month – from 11,478 through Nov. 1 to 16,455 by Dec. 1.

For a program that seemed on such shaky ground as recently as this fall, those numbers are heartening. Still legislators and industry groups would like to see more. And a three-month reporting period in 2015, rather than a full year, would be one way to see even more success, argues Ellmers, along with more than two dozen, mostly-Republican colleagues, in a Dec. 16 letter sent to HHS.

“We remain convinced that program success hinges on addressing the 2015 reporting period requirements,” Ellmers wrote, asking that HHS “immediately provide” a shortened, 90-day reporting period in 2015, “which would give providers much-needed time to safely and effectively implement certified technology and continue their ‘meaningful use’ journey.”

Full-year reporting will “complicate the forward trajectory” of the program and “jeopardize the $25 billion in federal investment made to date,” she wrote.

“Our constituents remain concerned that the pace and scope of change have outstripped the capacity of our nation’s hospitals and doctors to comply with program requirements,” wrote Ellmers, who co-sponsored the Flex-IT Act this past September, in answer to outcry over CMS holding fast on its 365-day reporting period – a move that “disregarded recommendations made by the vast majority of healthcare stakeholders.”

On Wednesday, CHIME President and CEO Russell P. Branzell issued a statement in support of the letter.

CHIME, he said, “applauds the leadership” Ellmers and her colleague, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, “have shown on this important, bipartisan issue and are pleased their colleagues recognize how essential meaningful use is in the modernization of the nation’s healthcare delivery system.”

He added that December data from CMS showing that about half of the nation’s physicians will receive penalties in 2015, “only validate our calls for increased program flexibility.”

Indeed, that penalty data had the AMA hopping mad on Wednesday.

The AMA, said President-Elect Steven J. Stack, MD, is “appalled” by the news that more than 50 percent of eligible professionals will face penalties under the meaningful use in 2015.

That’s “a number that is even worse than we anticipated,” he said.

“The AMA supported the original HITECH legislation and we have provided extensive and constructive feedback to the administration to help fix the meaningful use program, but few changes have been made,” wrote Stack.

The penalties faced by docs under meaningful use “are part of a regulatory tsunami facing physicians, apart from the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula, that could include cuts from the Physician Quality Reporting System, the Value-based Modifier Program and the sequester, further destabilizing physician practices and creating a disincentive to see Medicare patients,” he added.

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