Bills provide relief from meaningful use requirements

September 1, 2015

Two federal bills, one recently passed by Congress and the other recently introduced in the House of Representatives, seek to address a common area of frustration among physicians: the federal government’s electric health records meaningful use requirements.

Based on a partnership with Urology Times, articles from the American Association of Clinical Urologists (AACU) provide updates on legislative processes and issues affecting urologists. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Contact the AACU government affairs office at 847-517-1050 or info@aacuweb.org for more information.

Two federal bills, one recently passed by Congress and the other recently introduced in the House of Representatives, seek to address a common area of frustration among physicians: the federal government’s electric health records (EHR) meaningful use requirements.   

In August, the Senate passed the “Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015” (S. 1347. H.R. 887), previously approved by the House, sending the legislation to President Obama for approval. Under the bill, patient visits to ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) would be exempt from meaningful use reporting. According to the legislation’s findings, “[p]hysicians with patient encounters in an [ASC] are at a disadvantage when attempting to meet meaningful use requirements because there currently is not certified EHR technology for such centers.” The disadvantage stems from the fact that patient encounters at ASCs are being included in the determination of whether a surgeon receives an incentive payment or a penalty under the government’s meaningful use program.

This ASC exemption would remain in effect until 3 years after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services certifies EHRs for ASCs.

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The other bill, introduced by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) in July, delays Stage 3 of meaningful use implementation and reduces the meaningful use reporting period from 1 year to 90 days. Entitled the “Further Flexibility in HIT Reporting and Advancing Interoperability Act” or “Flex-IT 2 Act” (H.R. 3309), the bill is the second introduced by Ellmers this year addressing meaningful use, the other being H.R. 270, that calls for the continuation of a 90-day meaningful use reporting period.

Similarly, her latest bill calls for a reduction of the meaningful use reporting period from 1 year to 90 days and prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services from issuing a proposed or final rule on Stage 3 criteria prior to 2017, unless the Secretary certifies that 75% of both eligible hospitals and eligible providers attested to Stage 2 criteria or the Secretary promulgates a final rule to implement to the Merit-Based Incentive System (MIPS) contained in the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula repeal legislation signed into law earlier this year. Ellmers’ bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce committees.

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The government’s meaningful use program is intended to promote the use of EHRs in a way that improves patient care and increases efficiencies in health care delivery. A recently published survey by the American Medical Association and AmericanEHR Partners calls into question whether those goals are being achieved.

According to the survey, a greater percentage of physicians are unhappy with their EHR than 5 years ago. Among the findings:

  • 42% thought their EHR system’s ability to improve efficiency was difficult or very difficult

  • 72% thought their EHR system’s ability to decrease workload was difficult or very difficult

  • 54% said their EHR system increased their total operating costs.

  • Specialists less happy with their EHR than primary care physicians.

In July, the AMA hosted a town hall meeting with co-host Rep. Tom Price, MD (R-GA), where physicians voiced their concerns over EHRs and meaningful use. The event was a part of the AMA’s “Break the Red Tape” initiative that seeks the postponement of Stage 3 regulations in order to align them with other programs under MIPS.

These bills demonstrate that physicians’ frustrations over EHRs and meaningful use are being recognized by some in Washington. Physicians should continue to make their voices heard on this and other critical issues through political advocacy and engagement.

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