As the final rulemaking modifications to Stages 1 and 2 of the electronic health records program languished, healthcare providers had been urgently asking for flexibility in EHR reporting periods to attest for Meaningful Use. With the final rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released yesterday, they got what they wanted.

Eligible professionals under Medicare MU who have previously attested for Meaningful Use can pick any continuous 90-day period in calendar 2015 for their reporting period and avoid payment adjustments (reduced incentive payments) in 2017 by successfully attesting by Feb. 29, 2016.

The reporting period for returning EPs in 2016 is the full year; successfully attesting by Feb. 28, 2017, will avoid a payment adjustment in 2018.  EPs finished with Stage 2 can begin Stage 3 if they wish in 2017; participation in 2018 is mandatory.

Also See: Final Stage 3 Rule Released, But is It Really Final?

Returning eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals participating in Medicare MU in 2015 can pick any continuous 90-day period as their reporting period from Oct. 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015, and must attest by Feb. 29, 2016. Returning eligible hospitals and CAHs have a full year reporting period in 2016 and must successfully attest by Feb. 28, 2017, and they have a full calendar year reporting period in 2017, with attestation done by the end of February 2018.

While the American Medical Association said it is still in the process of reviewing the Meaningful Use regulations released yesterday, the physician group said it is pleased that CMS listened to the AMA and the concerns of doctors in several key areas in the modifications rule.

“In particular, the agency addressed the delay in issuing the modifications rule by allowing a hardship exemption for physicians who are unable to attest this year, providing needed relief for those uncertain about the 2015 program requirements,” said AMA President Steven Stack, M.D. “We also acknowledge that the agency is working to improve patient engagement by ensuring that patients can access portals while still providing flexibility in the measure requirements.”

For its part, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society said it “appreciates the continued efforts of CMS and ONC to simplify and provide flexibility for meeting the Meaningful Use program requirements.” In particular, HIMSS supports the confirmation of the 90-day reporting period for 2015.

Likewise, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives praised the rule, which adopts a 90-day reporting period for the current stages of the program, down from 365 days. “CHIME has long called for a 90-day reporting period and applauds CMS for adopting this new standard,” said Charles Christian, the chair of CHIME's Board of Trustees. “While several members are positioned to take advantage of this shorter period, others will be challenged to meet it, since there are fewer than 90 days remaining in the year. We urge CMS to implement a hardship exemption for those unable to meet this timeframe.”

CHIME also applauded CMS for modifying requirements surrounding patient access to electronic records. The rule stipulates that for 2015 and 2016, only one patient discharged from a hospital needs to view, download or transmit their electronic record to fulfill the objective.

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