Given that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not finalized a rule to ease compliance with Stages 1 and 2 of the electronic health records Meaningful Use program, the American Medical Association is seeking an automatic hardship exemption for physicians who will not have the opportunity to successfully attest this year.

Released in April for public comment, the agency’s proposed rule would ostensibly change the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program reporting period in 2015 from a full year to a 90-day period aligned with the calendar year. However, CMS has yet to issue the much-needed rule modifications leaving physicians in the lurch, according to AMA President Steven Stack, M.D.

Also See: Coalition Urges CMS to Finalize 2015-2017 EHR Incentive Rule

“The 90-day compliance period began Oct. 1 and all the doctors in the United States of America have no idea with what they have to comply,” says Stack, who argues that because CMS has delayed finalizing its rule physicians have been left without any assurances that they will be capable of meeting Meaningful Use requirements before the end of the year.

Because doctors who were counting on this flexibility will be subject to financial penalties under the current rules,  AMA is asking CMS to create an automatic hardship exemption as soon as possible “so that physicians are not penalized for regulatory delays that are outside their control,” according to Stack. “By not being able to promulgate the final rules in a timely manner, the only fair thing to do would be to provide a hardship exemption to physicians,” he asserts.  

Part of the problem, charges Stack, is that “the federal government has created a program with Meaningful Use that is an all-or-none pass/fail system.” He says under this “most unreasonable construct” doctors “can get everything right except if they miss just one of the 20 measures just by 1 percent they are deemed to have been a complete failure and receive a penalty.”

AMA has been among a long line of industry groups that for months has been asking CMS to finalize the Meaningful Use rule modifications to shorten the 2015 reporting period from a full year to 90 consecutive days. Last month, the Medical Group Management Association issued a statement that the “window of time that CMS is leaving medical groups and vendors to adjust workflows and update systems is both unacceptable and unrealistic.”

However, the agency continues to be silent on the final status of the proposed rule, which was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review. “We are anticipating an early fall release,” a CMS spokesperson said in response to a query.

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