(Story updated with comment at 2:35 p.m. ET Tuesday, Nov. 25.)
Hospitals will have an extra month to attest to having met the criteria to receive incentive payments for meaningfully using electronic health records, the CMS said Monday.
The American Hospital Association praised the government's latest change to the program in response to widespread industry anxiety about meeting its requirements and deadlines.
“The additional time is welcome, particularly for hospitals that are still working out how to take advantage of the flexibility rule published in September,” said Chantal Worzala, director of policy at the AHA. “That said, the need for an extension points to the overly complex nature of the meaningful-use program and the difficulty hospitals have faced in upgrading to 2014 Edition EHRs and meeting the 2014 requirements.”
The new deadline for eligible hospitals (including critical-access hospitals) is 11:59 p.m. ET Dec. 31, extended from Nov. 30. The payment period for them to have attained the requirements ended Sept. 30.
Earlier this month, the CMS amended a rule to allow hospitals and physicians more time to claim hardship exemptions from meeting meaningful use obligations in order to avoid future Medicare penalties.
The hardship filing deadline extension was needed in part due to a Catch 22 with the logic built into the CMS' own website, which was unable to handle meaningful use attestations from a narrow subset of program participants.
“I think there are hospitals still having issues with the attestation site,” said Samantha Burch, vice president, legislation and health information technology, for the Federation of American Hospitals. “All of the upgrades have been made to the site. I think these are specific issues specific hospitals are having, less than a systemic issue. It just made sense to give more time to the CMS help desk to work through those issues.”
Medicare-eligible hospitals must attest to meaningful use to not only receive an incentive payment, but also avoid a future Medicare payment penalty for noncompliance. Hospitals that fail to meet their meaningful-use requirement in 2014 will have those Medicare payment adjustments applied beginning Oct. 1, 2015.
The CMS has been under considerable pressure for more than a year from providers to relax some of the more stringent requirements of the EHR incentive payment program, including its timeline.
“It is clear that additional flexibility is needed to ensure program success, including a shorter reporting period in 2015,” the AHA's Worzala said.
Nearly 4,700 hospitals have been paid almost $15.2 billion under the program, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
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