In response to a growing chorus of industry groups, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) has introduced a bill in the House to delay federal rulemaking for the Stage 3 Meaningful Use program until at least 2017.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in March released its proposed Stage 3 rule which was roundly criticized by stakeholders who argued that CMS should fix Stage 2 before advancing to the next phase of electronic health records. By delaying the final Stage 3 rule, Ellmers hopes to provide eligible professionals and hospitals with “time to breathe and a reprieve from the unfair penalties” that they must pay for not meeting Stage 2 requirements.

As Ellmers points out, only 19 percent of physicians and 48 percent of hospitals have met Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program, which she calls a “clear sign that physicians, hospitals and healthcare providers are challenged in meeting CMS’ onerous requirements.” She goes on to say in a written statement: “Given this basic fact, I’m uncertain why CMS would continue to push forward with a Stage 3 rule.”

Also See: Pressure Mounting in Senate to Delay Meaningful Use Stage 3

Ellmers’ Further Flexibility in HIT Reporting and Advancing Interoperability (Flex-IT 2) Act would delay Stage 3 rulemaking by CMS until at least 2017, unless one of the following conditions has been met: the Health and Human Services Secretary certifies that 75 percent of doctors and hospitals have attested to Stage 2, or a rule for the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System has been finalized.

In addition, the Flex-IT 2 Act seeks to harmonize reporting requirements to remove duplicative measures and streamline requirements from CMS; institute a 90-day reporting period for each year regardless of stage or program experience; encourage interoperability among EHR systems; and expand hardship exemptions for providers. 

Industry groups were quick to endorse the proposed legislation, including the American Medical Association and College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

AMA in a written statement said it strongly supports the Flex-IT 2 Act for “responding to the depths of doctors’ dissatisfaction with the federal government’s Meaningful Use program” and “introducing needed flexibility and enhancing electronic health records to improve patient care and access to health information.”

AMA President Steven J. Stack, M.D. added that the bill “addresses many of the fundamental shortcomings in government regulations that have made many EHR systems very difficult to use” and also ensures that Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program is “developed in step with other efforts to modernize our nation’s healthcare system.”

Likewise, CHIME commended Ellmers for introducing the Flex-IT 2 Act.

“While CHIME remains committed to the success of Meaningful Use, and to making sure improved patient care is its lasting legacy, we believe significant changes are needed to address increased dissatisfaction with EHRs and growing provider dissatisfaction with the program,” said Russell P. Branzell, CHIME’s president and CEO, in a written statement. “Our members believe in the intent and promise of Meaningful Use, but providers and hospitals alike have been hamstrung by its often overly prescriptive requirements. We view the Congresswoman’s legislation as an opportunity to reevaluate and reorient this vital program that will provide the digital infrastructure to support a 21st century healthcare system.”

Text of the bill is available here.

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