UPDATE (Jan. 22, 2016): The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has made available information regarding changes to the Medicare EHR Incentive Program hardship exception process. Click here to access the instructions and application.

Prior to adjourning for the holidays, Congress adopted legislation that will allow any physician who applies for a hardship exemption from the 2015 electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use program to be exempted from the penalties that would have been levied in 2017. This blanket exemption will alleviate burdensome administrative issues for both physicians and the agency.

Addressing the regulatory problem

The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (S. 2425) is intended to address the issues created by the delay of the Stage 2 modifications rule issued in October. The modifications rule revised meaningful use requirements to make them more realistic but did little to help physicians because it was finalized so late in the year.

Under the Stage 2 modifications, physicians could avoid a financial penalty if they attested to meeting the Stage 2 requirements for 90 consecutive days during 2015. But the modifications rule wasn’t published until Oct. 16, leaving fewer than the 90 minimum days left in the calendar year.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (federal CMS) previously stated that it would grant hardship exemptions for 2015 if eligible physicians were unable to attest as a result of the lateness of the rule. But the agency was legally only permitted to grant such exemptions on a case-by-case basis. That meant that many physicians would have been required to apply for exemptions, and the federal CMS would have had to act on each application individually.

Alleviating this burden

The meaningful use provision in the new legislation, for which the American Medical Association was instrumental in securing support, will grant the federal CMS the authority to process requests for hardship exemptions to physicians through a streamlined process.

Physicians will have until March 15 to apply for an exemption from the 2015 meaningful use program year. The agency has not yet posted instructions on applying for the hardship exemption. We’ll provide information as it is available.

Categories: Communications, ASAP, Resources, Practice Evolution, Practice Redesign, Health Information Technology, Practice Management