The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday announced its intent to issue a new rule this spring to shorten the Meaningful Use reporting period in 2015 to 90 days for providers under the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs.

The new rule is intended to be “responsive to provider concerns about software implementation, information exchange readiness, and other related concerns in 2015” and are designed to help “reduce the reporting burden on providers, while supporting the long term goals of the program,” according to a Jan. 29 blog from CMS Deputy Administrator and Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway, M.D.

Conway says CMS is considering proposals to:

*Realign hospital EHR reporting periods to the calendar year to allow eligible hospitals more time to incorporate 2014 Edition software into their workflows and to better align with other CMS quality programs.

*Modify other aspects of the program to match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers’ reporting burdens.

*Shorten the EHR reporting period in 2015 to 90 days to accommodate these changes.

CMS spokesperson Jibril Boykin in a written response to a query from Health Data Management confirmed that the new rule’s 90-day reporting period in 2015 will apply to “Medicare and Medicaid eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals” and “all providers eligible to participate in the Medicare EHR incentive program as annual attestations are required to avoid the Medicare payment adjustments.”

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, tells Health Data Management that he is very pleased for CHIME members who have struggled with the “burden of trying to maintain that level of reporting and data management for a year versus 90 days,” which his organization sees as a dramatic relief in workload.

“We’ve been working on this now for almost a year and a half along with a lot of other organizations,” said Branzell. “Special thanks to ONC and CMS for listening. We’ve talked about this many times with them and the proposed rule they are recommending is a reflection of them listening to the industry.”

Last month, 30 members of Congress sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging a shortened 90-day EHR reporting period in 2015. The lawmakers argued that the policy change is critical to ensuring that hospitals and physicians can successfully participate in the Meaningful Use program. The letter referenced “extremely low” Stage 2 attestation rates and given the struggles of providers asked why HHS was maintaining that hospitals and physicians must perform a full-year EHR reporting period in 2015.

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who earlier this month re-introduced the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-IT) Act, which sought to mandate a 90-day reporting period in 2015 as opposed to a full year. If the proposed CMS rule is finalized as Conway laid out in his blog, CHIME’s Brazell said there won’t be a need for the Flex-IT Act.

“I commend CMS on their announcement today and am pleased to see them implement the 90-day reporting period as was suggested in the Flex-IT Act,” said Ellmers in a written statement. “I’ve heard the pleas from physicians, hospitals, and healthcare providers in North Carolina, and I am relieved to see CMS addressing the need for a 90-day reporting period in 2015. The additional time and flexibility afforded by these modifications will help hundreds of thousands of providers meet Stage 2 requirements in an effective and safe manner.”

In a written statement, the Medical Group Management Association similarly applauded CMS for its intention to increase program flexibility and shorten the 2015 EHR reporting period from a year to 90 days. “We urge CMS to expedite the release of its 90-day reporting provision to give physician practices the confidence they need to continue participating in this program,” states MGMA. “The number of eligible professionals successfully attesting for Stage 2 of the program in 2014 was sharply down from those attesting for Stage 1, making significant changes to Meaningful Use essential.”

At the same time, Conway emphasizes in his blog that the proposed rule CMS intends to pursue with regard to the 90-day MU reporting period in 2015 is separate from the forthcoming MU Stage 3 proposed rule that is expected to be released by early March. “CMS intends to limit the scope of the Stage 3 proposed rule to the requirements and criteria for meaningful use in 2017 and subsequent years,” he writes. 

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