New Legislation Would Allow for More Flexibility on Meaningful Use

Since the passage of the HITECH Act in 2009, meaningful use has helped encourage numerous health care organizations to integrate electronic health records (EHRs) into their practices. At the same time, it’s caused headaches among providers who have found the timeline for adoption to be too rapid. With that in mind, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) have introduced legislation that would help to relax meaningful use standards. As Healthcare IT News first reported, the legislation was discussed during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, “Examining Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen the Medicare Program,” last week. (As we noted at the time, lawmakers also discussed the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine [FAST] Act at the hearing.) “While the meaningful use program has been very successful in driving adoption of electronic health records, many providers have struggled to meet the requirements of meaningful use,” explained a committee memo released ahead of the hearing.

The HITECH Act, as drafted, requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make standards for meaningful use higher over the years, increasing the likelihood that providers will fall behind in complying with the standards and will face penalties as a result. Providers who believe they may not be able to comply “will often seek a hardship waiver to acknowledge they could not meet the increased standards,” the committee memo explains, pointing to the extra time and effort that HHS officials are then forced to spend in processing waiver requests. Burgess and Dingell’s legislation, however, would give the HHS Secretary more flexibility in setting standards, and would thus help HHS staff to save time and resources that would ordinarily be spent on waiver-request processing. Testifying during last week’s hearing, Kaleida Health CEO Cletis Earle expressed support for the legislation, pointing to the burden that meaningful use requirements place on many providers, in some cases potentially stifling innovation. “While EHR adoption has surpassed expectations and the vast majority of providers leverage a certified EHR to deliver care, many providers are still unable to comply with the requirements set forth by CMS in the meaningful use program,” Earle, per Healthcare IT News, told committee members, pointing to the need for more “reasonable reporting requirements.”

In other recent meaningful use-related news, lawmakers last week raised concerns about improper payments that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may have been making to hospitals for EHR adoption. As we noted, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at HHS will be investigating whether CMS may have wrongfully paid out more than $729 million between 2011 and 2016. “These overpayments resulted from inaccuracies in the hospitals’ calculations of total incentive payments,” OIG officials said in a statement. “We will review the hospitals’ incentive payment calculations to identify potential overpayments that the hospitals would have received as a result of the inaccuracies.” For their part, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) urged CMS to take steps to recover the payments. “If CMS is capable of recovering taxpayer money that should have not have been spent, the agency should take all reasonable steps to do so,” they wrote in a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Click here to read the article on the Burgess/Dingell legislation from Healthcare IT News.

Click here to read more about legislation considered during the hearing from the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

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