Congress works to ease year-long Meaningful Use reporting

July 10, 2016

Physicians treating Medicare patients may get some relief this year from the reporting requirements under the Meaningful Use rules, thanks to a bill in both houses of Congress. But that relief is far from guaranteed.

Physicians treating Medicare patients may get some relief this year from the reporting requirements under the Meaningful Use rules, thanks to a bill in both houses of Congress. But that relief is far from guaranteed.

Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) introduced the bill, the Flexibility in Electronic Health Record Reporting Act, in the U.S. Senate. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina) and seven colleagues, including Tom Price, MD (R-Georgia), introduced an identical bill in the House. 

Under the bill, physicians could choose any 90-day period this year to demonstrate compliance with requirements for the Stage 2 rules of Meaningful Use. Currently, physicians are required to certify compliance with the rules for the entire year. 

In 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed physicians to use any continuous 90 days as their EHR reporting period. But CMS also announced that this year and in the future providers would have to report for the full calendar year. 

For physicians seeking relief from the full-year requirement, the good news is the bill has bipartisan support in both chambers. But such backing does not guarantee passage.

In February, the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) sent to the full Senate a bill—the Improving Health Information Technology Act—that called for many of the changes physicians have proposed. Since then, not much has happened. But in May, HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said that because
S. 2511 has bipartisan support, the Senate “ought” to get it passed and ready for President Obama’s signature by early July. 

 

Ellmers expects the bill to have a good chance of passing both chambers and being signed into law. “I feel strongly that the good bipartisan support will enhance the process and move this bill forward,” she tells
Medical Economics.

When home in her North Carolina district, she often hears physicians complain about how much time they spend complying with the Meaningful Use requirements. This year, physicians are preparing for new quality reporting requirements that will begin January 1, 2017, under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). 

“We’re getting to the point now where we have to give some relief to healthcare providers,” says Ellmers, a registered nurse married to a general surgeon. Before being elected to Congress in 2010, she worked in her husband’s office in Dunn, North Carolina. 

Many physicians have told her they would rather take the 2% penalty for failing to comply with Meaningful Use  than to meet the requirements. Wanda Filer, MD, FAAFP, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, also has heard physicians say they may pay the penalty or apply for a hardship waiver to avoid the penalty. 

“I think CMS knows that an awful lot of our members have thrown up their hands over Meaningful Use,” says Filer, a family physician practicing in York, Pennsylvania. 

One question that could hold up the legislation is its effect on revenue, warns Laura Wooster, MPH, vice president of government relations for the American Osteopathic Association. “If these bills mean less penalties from physicians and Congress is mostly in a budget neutral environment, any legislation that costs money must be offset by legislation that gets it from somewhere else,” Wooster says. “So, it’s a taller hill to climb rather than just whether members of Congress like it or not.” 

 

Joseph Burns is an independent journalist in Falmouth, Massachusetts. What should the government do with Meaningful Use in 2016? Tell us at: medec@advanstar.com