The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act brings immediate relief for eligible professionals and hospitals that were rushing to try and attest to Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program this year. However, the eventual hurdles to Stage 3 remain and could loom even larger unless other changes are made to the program.

Signed into law Monday evening by President Obama, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act makes it easier for eligible professionals and hospitals to apply for hardship exemptions from requirements of the Meaningful Use program governing electronic health records.

The hardship exemptions are important for providers that will need more time to attest to Stage 2. Failing to attest to achieving requirements for MU Stage 2 for a period of 90 consecutive days during calendar year 2015 could leave providers liable for penalties.

Most of the relief the industry needed came in October, when CMS released the final rule rolling back some of the requirements originally set for Stage 2, says Pamela McNutt, senior vice president and CIO for Dallas-based Methodist Health System. “I think we are in good shape for Stage 2 with the relief we got back in October,” she notes.

However, the relaxation in Stage 2 requirements will only serve to heighten the leap providers will need to make to achieve Stage 3, as it’s currently structured, says McNutt, who closely analyzes federal policy involving health IT and has been deeply involved in policy position formulation for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

Attention needs to shift to structuring the Meaningful Use program to get more providers achieving key objectives and using EHR systems more effectively to improve care delivery, she added.

“The number 1 thing is that no further Stages (like Stage 3) should be contemplated or set in stone before we have large-scale adoption of Stage 2,” she believes. “Stage 3 needs to be significantly watered down to be successful and must have a 90-day reporting period, no matter when you start. All requirements that are based on actions of others need to be removed.”

McNutt believes it’s significant that the industry benefitted from congressional intervention in a matter affecting health IT, and she adds that it increases the likelihood that legislators may intervene to address other problematic aspects of HIT policy.

“I believe we will be successful again, over the next few years, in bringing Stage 3 into something reasonable,” she concludes.

 

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