Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, discounted the need for a delay in rural providers meeting the program's Stage 2 requirements. Mostashari said his office's regional coordination centers have been so successful in helping rural hospitals that they anticipate 1,000 critical-access hospitals will achieve meaningful use this year, instead of earlier projections that the milestone would not occur until next year.
“We're open to the dialogue, but I would much rather see rural hospitals be able to move up rather than falling behind,” Mostashari told the panel about a possible delay.
HHS plans to roll out the rules for Stage 3 of the incentive payment program in 2014.
The discussion of a possible delay for rural providers came as CMS officials aggressively pushed back on Republican suggestions that a pause is needed in the overall EHR program. Some Senate and House Republicans have called for a pause in the EHR program, which has spent $15 billion since 2009 to incentivize providers to adopt and use digital medical recordkeeping
Republicans said a suspension could address the concerns of advanced providers that the program is moving too slowly toward interoperability and could also prevent adverse provider impacts when Medicare penalties for not fully complying begin in 2015.
“A pause in the program would stall the progress that's been hard fought,” Mostashari said at the hearing.
The panel reviewed a range of successes and shortcomings associated with the program, which plans to spend $33 billion in provider incentives through 2021. Among the problems have been lags in the provision of Medicare data to providers hoping to use it to improve their care, frequently as part of the CMS' own quality improvement programs.
Dr. Patrick Conway, director for the CMS Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, touted his agency's move toward more frequent, monthly data sharing with providers participating in the various CMS shared savings programs. But Conway agreed to discuss with the committee possible new benchmarks in provider data sharing.
Also on Wednesday, HHS issued new data on the extent that EHRs have been used for various healthcare tasks, including their role in sending more than 190 million electronic prescriptions, which may help reduce the chance for medication errors.
The committee plans to further review the progress of the incentive program at a hearing next week with providers and vendors.
Follow Rich Daly on Twitter: @MHrdaly