President Obama on Monday signed into law the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, which makes it easier for eligible professionals and hospitals to apply for hardship exemptions from Meaningful Use electronic health record requirements.

In particular, the law provides EPs and EHs with relief from financial penalties for failing to meet Stage 2 MU requirements this year, ensuring that providers have “flexibility in applying the hardship exception for Meaningful Use for the 2015 EHR reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments.”

To avoid a penalty, physicians and hospitals had to attest that they met the requirements for MU Stage 2 for a period of 90 consecutive days during calendar year 2015. However, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not publish the 2015-2017 modifications rule for Stage 1 and 2 of MU until October. As a result, by the time providers were notified of the requirements, fewer than the 90 required days for reporting remained in the calendar year.

Introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the bill received bipartisan support, passing both the House and Senate earlier this month before being sent to Obama for his signature. The law includes legislative language based on the Meaningful Use Hardship Relief Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.), giving CMS the authority to grant blanket hardship exceptions to affected providers for 2015.

“The recent modifications rule for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program for electronic health records failed to offer physicians and hospitals enough time to actually comply with the new requirements,” said Price in a statement. “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.”

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