The Department of Health and Human Services has moved the start date for Stage 2 of the electronic health records meaningful use program from 2013 to 2014.
The initial HHS announcement did not make clear which providers were eligible to wait until 2014. The department clarified its position to Health Data Management.
Federal officials this summer had voiced support for a proposal to delay Stage 2 one year to 2014 for providers who attest to Stage 1 in 2011. The rationale was that Stage 1 pioneers who attest in 2011 should not be penalized by tight timeframes next summer for getting ready for Stage 2. Now, that proposal is adopted, and since providers who begin Stage 1 attestation in 2012 could wait until 2014 to start Stage 2, now everyone will start Stage 2 in 2014. Pioneer providers in 2011, however, can get three years of Stage 1 incentive payments. Following is a statement from HHS explaining the decision:
"Input from the vendor community and the provider community makes clear that the current schedule for compliance with stage 2 meaningful use objectives in 2013 poses a nearly insurmountable timing challenge for those who attest to meaningful use in 2011. With the anticipated release of the final rule for stage 2 in June, 2012, the current timetable would require EHR vendors to design, develop, and release new functionality, and for eligible hospitals to upgrade, implement and begin using the new functionality by the beginning of the reporting year in October of 2012.
"In response to significant input on this matter from multiple stakeholders, expert testimony, and countless hours of review, analysis and deliberation, HHS publicly announced its intention to delay the start of Stage 2 of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs for a period of one year for those first attesting to meaningful use in 2011. We intend to propose such a delay in the Stage 2 meaningful use Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which is scheduled to be published in February 2012. Not only do we believe that this will give vendors added time to develop certified EHR technologies for Stage 2, we also believe this delay will give providers additional time to implement new software and meet the new challenges of Stage 2. We also intend to propose maintaining the current expectation for those first attesting to meaningful use in 2012, so that all providers attesting to meaningful use in 2011 or 2012 will begin Stage 2 in 2014.
"Perhaps most importantly, we want to provide an added incentive for providers attesting to meaningful use in 2011. We encourage any providers who have been waiting until 2012 to attest to Stage 1 meaningful use now. Under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, providers who attest early receive greater incentives. And now those providers who first attest in 2011 can get three payment years for meeting the Stage 1 expectations, while those first attesting in 2012 can only get two payment years under Stage 1 criteria."
American Hospital Association President Rich Umbdenstock applauded the HHS decision:
"America's hospitals welcome today's announcement that HHS intends to delay the start of Stage 2 meaningful use. Hospitals are committed to implementing electronic health records to support high quality patient care, but the rushed timelines and complex regulatory requirements of meaningful use have made the process difficult. While the flow of meaningful use incentives to date has been slow, the delay will better align EHR adoption policy with market realities, such as limited vendor capacity to work with providers. Giving hospitals another year to implement these changes before the bar is raised on the meaningful use requirements is good news, especially for small, rural and safety net facilities."
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