MU2 flexibility bill gains bipartisan support

January 21, 2015

Legislators are stepping up in attempts to help physicians avoid impending meaningful use stage 2 (MU2) penalties that could affect the majority of eligible healthcare providers.

If passed, the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (FLEX-IT) Act will allow healthcare providers the option to decrease the MU2 reporting period from a full year to 90 days. The bill was first introduced by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) in September 2014, but was untouched during December’s lame-duck session.

The latest version of the bill, introduced on January 8, includes support from both Republicans and Democrats. Ellmers says that quick changes need to be made to the MU program, considering that nearly half of eligible providers (EPs) are facing stage 1 MU penalties, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“The time constraints imposed on doctors and hospitals are inflexible and simply unmanageable- and this is evident by the dreadful stage 2 meaningful use attestation numbers released by CMS late last year,” Ellmers said in a press release.

Leaders from healthcare advocacy organizations including the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Hospital Association, American Medical Association (AMA), College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Healthcare Information Management Systems Society and Medical Group Management Association urged legislators to pass the bill before the 2015 MU2 deadline in February. In November of 2014, the coalition wrote CMS requesting a more lenient MU2 attestation schedule.

“We are pleased with renewed efforts to provide greater flexibility in the Meaningful Use program and hope that this is the first of several steps to make the program work better for physicians and other providers so that the full potential of these technologies to improve care and value can be realized,” said American Medical Association President-Elect Steven J. Stack, MD in a written statement.

Robert Wergin, MD, president of the AAFP says that family and primary care physicians are hit hardest by MU requirements and penalties. “As family medicine continues to do its part in building the HER (electronic health records) infrastructure - a massive undertaking - CMS should not set benchmarks so high that it discourages participation in the program…The American Academy of Family Physicians believes this flexibility will help physicians stay on track in building an EHR system that works.”

As of December of 2014, 4% of EPs and less than 35% of hospitals successfully attested to MU2. EPs have until February 2015 to attest to MU2, or face a 1% reduction in Medicare reimbursements.

Meanwhile, nearly 260,000 EPs will face a 1% reduction in Medicaid reimbursements for failing to attest to 2014 MU standards.