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Doctors get new flexibility in Meaningful Use reporting


Doctors taking part in stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program for electronic health records (EHRs) will get some welcome flexibility in their reporting requirements next year.

Doctors taking part in stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program for electronic health records (EHRs) will get some welcome flexibility in their reporting requirements next year.


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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs the program, announced on November 1 that in 2017 doctors will only have to track and report their Meaningful Use data for 90 days. The original reporting requirement was for a full calendar year.

In its announcement, CMS said it will continue the 90-day reporting period for another year to give doctors time both to transition to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System that begins next year, and to acquire 2015-certified EHR systems. Practices will need EHRs certified to the latest technology in order to participate in stage 3 of Meaningful Use, which is optional for providers in 2017 but becomes mandatory in 2018.

The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) is one of the Medicare reimbursement “tracks” doctors and practices may choose under the 2015 Medicare payment reform legislation, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). CMS expects most independent practices to choose the MIPS track over the alternative, the advanced Alternative Payment Model, at least for the first few years following MACRA’s implementation.

Melissa Lucarelli, a solo primary care provider in rural Randolph, Wisconsin and a Medical Economics editorial adviser, calls the changes “an unexpected relief.”


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“This new CMS final rule means we will soon be done with Meaningful Use reporting for 2016 … and we could potentially submit 2017 after the first quarter, leaving us the rest of that year to focus on other upcoming regulatory hurdles like MACRA,” Lucarelli says.

In addition, CMS said that doctors who plan to participate in Meaningful Use for the first time in 2017 will have to meet “modified” stage 2 objectives and measures rather than those for the more demanding stage 3. The change does not apply to current Meaningful Use participants, CMS says.

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Steven Waldren, MD, director of the Alliance for eHealth Innovation at American Academy of Family Physicians, said the academy welcomed the eased reporting requirements. “Our members need that 90-day reporting period to give them time to migrate to MIPS for 2017,” he said. “There’s so much complexity involved with making the transition and our members really need to be free to focus on that.”

A 90-day reporting period also lessens the consequences of making an error in reporting data, Waldren noted. “Having it be a full year or nothing really limits your ability to make a mistake and recover,” he said. 


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“We think it’s a good thing for everyone involved,” he added. “It will help make sure small and medium-sized practices continue the momentum [of participating in Meaningful Use] into 2017 and are able to be ready for MIPS.”

The Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) also endorsed the shorter reporting period for 2017. “This change promotes program flexibility and will assist healthcare providers,” Carla Smith, MA, FHIMSS, the society’s executive vice president, said in a written statement.

CMS also revealed it is finalizing a proposal that will allow some doctors participating in Meaningful Use for the first time next year, and who are also transitioning to MIPS, to apply for a one-time “significant hardship” exemption from Meaningful Use financial penalties in 2018.

That change will help some practices make the transition to MIPS by “freeing up money and resources for purchasing a new EHR system or upgrading an existing one,” said Laura Wooster, MPH, interim senior vice president of public policy for the American Osteopathic Association.


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Wooster added that the AOA also supports shortening the 2017 reporting period to  90 days. “It’s absolutely a beneficial thing for our members, and the changes align well with what doctors are going to need to do in 2017 under MACRA,” she said.         

The changes to the EHR reporting requirements were included as part of a larger package of announced changes to Medicare’s Outpatient Prospective Payment System.                

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