ORLANDO – The government can be a bit more flexible on physicians meeting Stage 2 of meaningful use of electronic health records, but won’t give blanket permission to slide on deadlines.
That’s according to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), who spoke Feb. 27 at the annual meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Physicians have been seeking more leeway from CMS on participating in meaningful use this year, in part because they must purchase or upgrade to the 2014 edition of certified EHR (electronic health records) technology, and in part because they must get ready to switch over to the ICD-10 coding set on Oct. 1.
Physicians who participate in meaningful use get incentive payments from Medicare or Medicaid. If they don’t participate this year, they’ll be penalized starting in 2015.
On Feb. 21, 48 physician organizations wrote to the Health and Human Services department, asking for delays in some of the deadlines for meaningful use this year and for more flexibility from the CMS.
Ms. Tavenner said that CMS officials had heard many concerns about moving forward with Stage 2, and "are sensitive to those concerns." She noted that over the past few years, the agency had delayed the start of Stage 1 and Stage 2, and most recently pushed back implementation of Stage 3 to 2017.
"But now is not the time to stop moving forward," she said. Ms. Tavenner said that it was understood that some health care providers and vendors "may legitimately have issues with establishing Stage 2 reporting deadlines."
Because of that, the CMS has "decided to permit flexibility in how hardship exemptions will be granted in the 2014 reporting year," she said.
The agency will look at hardship requests case-by-case, as is required by law. And it is expected to issue further guidance on what qualifies as a hardship very soon.
But Ms. Tavenner said the agency would not give everyone a pass.
"I must stress to you that we do expect all eligible Stage 2 providers to fully meet all requirements in 2015," Ms. Tavenner said. "And I urge all of you to do everything you can to meet the Stage 2 requirements this year."
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