Alexander Pushes Legislation if CMS Won’t Delay Stage 3 on Its Own

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Yesterday’s announcement by Senate health committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that he wants to see a delay in the finalization of the Stage 3 rule for the electronic health records Meaningful Use program until January 1, 2017, was met with approval by several industry groups.

But, how would the senator actually get the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to comply?

“Alexander hopes to persuade them to make the change administratively but will look at legislative options if necessary,” according to an Alexander aide, who asked not to be identified.

The aide said CMS was not blindsided by the senator’s announcement during a Sept. 16 committee hearing on EHRs, as Alexander called Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday to inform her of his intentions. He also discussed his views on a Stage 3 delay with ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on the Senate floor during votes on Tuesday, according to the same aide.

Also See: Senate Health Chairman Wants Stage 3 Delayed to 2017

For months, Alexander has been railing against the Meaningful Use program in a series of committee hearings and voicing the concerns of providers who have told him they are “terrified” of Stage 3. His threat of legislative action comes at a time when the final planned stage of Meaning Use is on the verge of being finalized. CMS sent the Stage 3 rule to the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month for its review and approval, which is expected shortly.

“We appreciate provider interest in the EHR Incentive Programs and in our final regulations in particular. We have just submitted the final rule to OMB for review,” says Jibril Boykin, press officer for CMS. “We are anticipating an early fall release.”

As of now, CMS seems intent on finalizing the Stage 3 rule, despite Alexander’s call for a delay. In hearings over the past few months, Alexander has said he wants to work with the Obama administration to improve EHRs and get the Meaningful Use program “back on track” after years of “bad policy and bad incentives.” However, if push comes to shove, the powerful health committee chairman has previously said that Congress “might have to pass a law.” 

In a written statement, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives applauded Alexander for “calling on the Obama administration to take a more reasoned approach to the next phases of the Meaningful Use program” and said it appreciated his “recognition that hospitals and health systems are still working to meet requirements under Stages 1 and 2.”

Likewise, the American Medical Association issued a statement that it strongly agrees with Alexander “that the Meaningful Use program should be paused given the urgent need to improve the usability and interoperability of electronic health record systems.”

AMA has been calling for a “temporary period of reassessment that is needed to help the Meaningful Use program succeed,” according to Steven J. Stack, M.D., president of the association. “There is growing bipartisan recognition that the Meaningful Use program needs adjustments to achieve its goals,” said Stack. “Proper reassessment of the program before implementing the final stage of regulations will help avoid problematic software that physicians and patients will be burdened with for years to come.”  

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