On Friday, November 6, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC) announced its proposal to extend the timeline by which eligible healthcare providers must demonstrate a “meaningful use” (MU) of a certified electronic health record (EHR) in compliance with the MU Stage 2 criteria set forth in regulations issued pursuant to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. Originally, eligible providers who demonstrated Stage 1 MU by the end of 2013 would have had to demonstrate at least 3 months of Stage 2 MU by September 30, 2014 for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) and by December 31, 2014 for eligible professionals, do one more year of Stage 2 in 2015, and then move to Stage 3 by 2016. The CMS – ONC apparently will give all eligible providers more time to stay in Stage 2, stating: “Under the revised timeline, Stage 2 will be extended through 2016 and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those providers that have completed at least two years in Stage 2.” In essence, the start of Stage 3 is being delayed and, apparently (pending further rule making), nothing else.
According to the CMS – ONC press release, the goal of the extended timeline is two-fold:
[F]irst, to allow CMS and ONC to focus efforts on the successful implementation of the enhanced patient engagement, interoperability and health information exchange requirements in Stage 2; and second, to utilize data from Stage 2 participation to inform policy decisions for Stage 3.
The phased approach to program participation helps providers move from creating information in Stage 1, to exchanging health information in Stage 2, to focusing on improved outcomes in Stage 3. This approach has allowed us to support an aggressive yet smart transition for providers.
A number of other benefits of the extension also are cited by CMS and ONC.
Whether this proposal offers the much needed relief for which both eligible providers and EHR vendors have been asking is questionable since those who have to move to Stage 2 in 2014 still have to do so while still implementing ICD-10 at the same time. (See article by John Halamka at: http://geekdoctor.blogspot.com/2013/12/meaningful-use-and-certification.html?m=1). Health care industry groups have been urging both CMS and the ONC to push back the MU Stage 2 deadline as it was becoming evident that certain issues related to Stage 2 MU criteria were either impractical or immature in development (e.g., the patient engagement criteria). This story is still developing.
Also bear in mind that this proposal does not indicate that there will be any extension of the deadlines by which eligible hospitals, CAHs, and eligible providers must adopt and demonstrate MU of certified EHRs in order to avoid the impending 2015 Medicare reimbursement cuts related to the failure to timely and appropriately attest to EHR adoption. Thus, to avoid such Medicare cuts, eligible providers who have not yet attested to MU of certified EHRs should proceed to adopt and demonstrate compliance with at least the Stage 1 MU criteria by the current attestation deadlines. These deadlines are September 30, 2014 for eligible hospitals and CAHs and December 31, 2014 for eligible professionals.
To read the CMS-ONC press release, click here.