Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy at CHIME, the association of healthcare chief information officers, praised the reopening of the hardship exemption application period, though he attributed it to the errors with the Web portal used to attest to second-stage requirements that had prevented providers and hospitals from demonstrating their compliance.
The decision may have been spurred by the pressure of a trio of lawmakers, Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah), along with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.),who asked the CMS in September for an administrative change to help providers.
At the time, a CMS spokeswoman said that any change could not be done until Oct. 1.
In response to an e-mail question Tuesday, however, the CMS said that the change in the hardship exemption was not driven by flaws in its Web portal.
That didn't convince Smith, however. “We have to see if the website is completely fixed,” he said. “I've heard it isn't.” But a CMS spokeswoman denied that there had ever been problems with the website, and added that providers wanting to use flexibility rules may now do so.
Smith anticipates a large number of providers and hospitals won't attest this year. Updated numbers on attestation, issued by the CMS, will be made available in a committee meeting held by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT next week, but Smith noted that the last set of statistics showed only 143 hospitals demonstrating second-stage compliance.
Dan Haley, vice president of government affairs with EHR vendor Athenahealth, says the low attestation numbers and extended hardship exemption period shows flaws with the meaningful-use program.
Haley argues that the certification process cleared low-quality products, which contributed to vendor and provider inability to comply with second-stage requirements.
The CMS said that it had received roughly 44,000 applications for hardship exemptions by the end of September and was in the process of informing providers of the agency's decision.
Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir