HEALTH CARE IT NEWS: AMA Presses CMS for Meaningful Use Hardship Exemption

The original article appears here, and was written by Mike Miliard for Healthcare IT News on October 5, 2015.

‘CMS has left physicians without any guidance or assurances that they will be capably of meeting program requirements.’

In the continued absence of a meaningful use final rule, physicians have been left hanging, according to the American Medical Association, which is calling for an “automatic hardship exemption” to protect docs from circumstances outside their control.

With the flexibilities promised by the proposed modification to Stage 2 still yet to be released, AMA late Friday put out a press release calling on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to offer eligible providers for an exemption, shielding them from adverse consequences brought about by the continuing regulatory delays.

Rule relaxations such as a 90-day reporting period were welcomed by many providers when first announced this spring. But six months later – even though the rulemaking now sits in the Office of Management and Budget awaiting review – the rules have still yet to be finalized.

“The AMA welcomed and supported the proposed changes, but it’s now Oct. 1, and CMS has left physicians without any guidance or assurances that they will be capable of meeting program requirements before the end of the year,” AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, wrote in a statement.

“As a result, many physicians who were counting on this flexibility will be subject to financial penalties under the rules currently in place,” he added.

Meanwhile, AMA points to many physicians who have bailed on meaningful use thanks to “a pervasive lack of faith in the overall program.”

Indeed, AMA held a town hall meeting focused on electronic health records this past week in Massachusetts. Among the opinions and anecdotes voiced by the physicians in attendance:

“I find myself at this stage of my life looking at issues not only as a physician but as a patient. I’m concerned that my outstanding doctors are being forced to spend more time on activities that do not enhance their ability to care for my health but actually interfere with that goal,” said Henry L. Dorkin, MD, vice president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

“We thought it was going to be a wonderful way to showcase how great what we were doing was,” said family physician Kate Atkinson, MD. “But we discovered it was the opposite. They asked us to do things we weren’t doing that actually impeded patient care rather than helping.

“We successfully attested every year for meaningful use since 2011,” Atkinson added. “We then attested for meaningful use Stage 2 in 2014 for Medicare, were audited and the entire process took 19 months and has cost (our practice) tens of thousands of dollars.”

Thanks to meaningful use requirements, “We had to stop development of the innovative things that we were doing to comply with the regulations in Stage 1 and Stage 2, such as a program to e-prescribe controlled substances,” said Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, an anesthesiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (who also serves on the AMA Board of Trustees). “We had to put that on hold.”

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