Experience. Integrity. Advocacy.
Experience. Integrity. Advocacy.

Meaningful Use’s Near-Death Experience and the Streamlined Hardship Exception Application Process

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Rumors of Meaningful Use’s death back in early January were greatly exaggerated. In a speech at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt announced that with the implementation of the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), the “Meaningful Use program as it has existed, will now be effectively over and replaced with something better.” However, the conclusion that Meaningful Use had run its course was premature.

“The process will be ongoing, not an instant fix and we must all commit to learning and improving and collaborating on the best solutions,” Slavitt clarified a week later in a post on the CMS blog. Specifically, he said that current law requires that providers meet the existing meaningful use standards (through the 2016 reporting year affecting 2018 payments), that MACRA legislation only addresses Medicare physician and clinician payment adjustments and does not address the EHR incentive programs for Medicaid and Medicare hospitals, and that refining meaningful use guidelines under MACRA “won’t happen overnight.”

“Our goal in communicating our principles now is to give everyone time to plan for what’s next and to continue to give us input,” Slavitt wrote. “We encourage you to look for the MACRA regulations this year; in the meantime, our existing regulations – including meaningful use Stage 3 – are still in effect.”

Looking toward the Future

When changes do happen, Slavitt said he expects meaningful use to transition from the adoption of technology to the measurement of how technology affects patient care. He said the following four principles will be at the heart of any new meaningful use criteria:

  • “Rewarding providers for the outcomes technology helps them achieve with their patients.
  • “Allowing providers the flexibility to customize health IT to their individual practice needs. Technology must be user-centered and support physicians.
  • “Leveling the technology playing field to promote innovation, including for start-ups and new entrants, by unlocking electronic health information through open APIs – technology tools that underpin many consumer applications.”
  • “Prioritizing interoperability by implementing federally recognized, national interoperability standards and focusing on real-world uses of technology, like ensuring continuity of care during referrals or finding ways for patients to engage in their own care.”

Streamlined Hardship Exceptions

Also, Slavitt announced a more immediate change in the Meaningful Use program: streamlined hardship exception applications. The new guidelines will allow physicians to apply for hardship exceptions as a group rather than just as individuals, and it will allow CMS to consider hardship exceptions for “categories” of EPs, eligible hospitals, and CAHs instead of on a case-by-case basis.

Eligible professionals, hospitals, and CAHs have until July 1, 2016, to apply for a hardship exception for the 2015 attestation year to avoid a 3 percent payment adjustment in 2017. (NOTE: This deadline was first extended until March 31, 2016, and on February 29, 2016, was extended to the new July deadline.)

Instructions and hardship applications are available on the CMS website by following the links below:

For more information about Slavitt’s announcements about Meaningful Use and MACRA, visit the CMS blog. Also, Healthcare Dive has a thorough but easy-to-read summary of MACRA and the new MIPS program.

— All rights reserved. For use or reprint in your blog, website, or publication, please contact us at cipromsmarketing@ciproms.com. Photo by jfcherry via Flickr used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a freelance writer and editor who provides communications and marketing services for CIPROMS. She is responsible for creating, editing, and managing all content, design, and interaction on the company website and social media channels in order to promote CIPROMS as a thought leader in healthcare billing and management.

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