Legislation has passed the House and Senate that would make it easier for providers to get a hardship exemption from financial penalties for failing to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use electronic health record requirements in 2015. Now, the measure awaits President Obama’s signature to become law.

The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (S. 2425), introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), was passed by both chambers of Congress on Friday with bipartisan support. The bill would ensure that eligible professionals and hospitals have “flexibility in applying the hardship exception for Meaningful Use for the 2015 EHR reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments.”

Because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not release its final 2015-2017 rule making modifications to Stages 1 and 2 of the Meaningful Use program until Oct. 6, the American Medical Association had been calling for an automatic hardship exemption for physicians not able to have the opportunity to successfully attest this year.

Also See: AMA Seeks MU Hardship Exemption for Doctors

“The recent modifications rule for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program for electronic health records failed to offer physicians and hospitals with enough time to actually comply with the new requirements,” said Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.). “Due to the tardiness of the final CMS rule, it is virtually impossible for doctors to meet the requirement deadlines. This much needed relief will make the hardship application process much easier for doctors to avoid penalties stemming from the administration’s mistake, and thereby provide more time to care for patients.”

The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act included legislative language based on Price’s Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act (H.R. 3940), which Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) co-sponsored. According to Ellmers, the passage of the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act will provide relief for physicians and hospitals struggling to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements.

“Congress is taking a giant step in supplying relief to the provider community—and helping patients receive better, seamless care,” said Ellmers in a written statement. “I will continue to keep an eye out for CMS implementation and oversight of this policy to ensure that the administration is sticking to congressional intent in order to provide relief for the medical community. Moving forward, this process will now allow doctors to avoid erroneous penalties that would have otherwise caused harm for patients seeking quality care.”

In July, Ellmers introduced the Flex-IT 2 Act (H.R. 3309) which included hardship exemptions for physicians and hospitals as a “reprieve from the unfair penalties” that they must pay for not meeting Stage 2 requirements, arguing at that time that only 19 percent of eligible professionals and 48 percent of eligible hospitals had met these “onerous” requirements.

 

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