Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would shorten the Meaningful Use reporting period from one year to 90 days.

The request is important, because the current regulations require providers to collect and present data from 365 days in order to show they’ve achieved objectives in the federal incentive program for electronic health records. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services eased requirements so that providers only had to submit data for a 90-day period.

In general, it’s easier for providers to have shorter reporting periods, because it eases their data collection requirements, and it increases the chances that they’ll meet MU objectives. So far this year, CMS had not indicated a willingness to shorten the reporting period, despite increasing pressure from industry groups.

The Flexibility in Electronic Health Record Reporting Act is meant to ease the burdens on providers in adopting health information technology so that they can better focus on patient care, according to the senators, who were joined by Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Tom Price, MD (R-Ga.), and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in the House of Representatives in introducing the bill.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D.-Colo.)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D.-Colo.) Bloomberg file photo

“Healthcare providers in Colorado and around the country are focused on offering the care that their patients need, and cumbersome government regulations should not detract from that,” said Sen. Bennet. “This bipartisan bill will help providers adopt new health IT by cutting red tape and ensuring they can focus their resources on delivering care to patients.”

“Our hospitals and medical professionals work long, unpredictable hours every day to keep us safe and healthy,” added Sen. Portman. “Washington red tape and arbitrary deadlines make their job harder. Our legislation will make it easier to comply with the law.”

Legislators also took shots at CMS for its delays in responding to industry requests for relief.

“The continued procrastination by CMS to provide relief from the tough and inflexible deadlines within the Meaningful Use Program has prompted myself and Senator Portman to rally our colleagues and take action,” said Ellmers in a written statement. “As a nurse, I continue to recognize the problems physicians, hospitals and healthcare providers face when working to meet CMS’ stringent Meaningful Use requirements.

“While provider participation in this program is important, it’s clear that our medical community is eager for relief, but that CMS is in no hurry to provide it,” Ellmers continued. Today’s bipartisan and bicameral legislation is critical to the ongoing conversation about how to best serve patients and supply relief to the provider community.”

The 90-day MU reporting period proposed in the bill is supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Surgeons, the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, and the Medical Group Management Association, among other groups.

Last month, a number of groups collaborated to send a letter to CMS, asking the agency to “allow participants to report on any 90-day period in 2016, as was the policy in 2015. Doing so will continue the significant progress providers are making to harness the use of technology to succeed in new payment and care delivery models.

“Further, announcing this as soon as possible will reduce the number of providers who will feel compelled to rely on filing for a hardship,” the letter adds.

The groups also says a 365-day reporting period, will make “it significantly more challenging for providers to prepare for the transition to the new MACRA requirements.”

“Changes made to the Meaningful Use program last year provided welcomed relief from burdensome regulatory requirements,” says Marc Probst, CHIME board chair and chief information officer for Intermountain Healthcare. “Providers now are awaiting further changes to the program spurred by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

In comments supporting the new legislation, CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell said, “The Flexibility in EHR Reporting Act of 2016 represents a sensible approach to modifying the Meaningful Use program by granting healthcare providers much-needed flexibility without compromising the goal of further digitizing healthcare.

“We are especially encouraged that both the Senate and House bills have bipartisan support,”

Branzell added. “There’s growing acknowledgement across the industry that a 90-day reporting period for Meaningful Use, rather than the current 365-day construct, is a more reasoned approach to public policy.”

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