Twenty-nine Republican House members have co-signed a letter with Rep. Renee Ellmers, (R-N.C.), calling on HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to take immediate action to cut the 2015 reporting period for the federal electronic health records incentive-payment program from a full year to 90 days.
“We believe this change will have a dramatically positive effect on program participation and policy outcomes sought in 2015 and beyond,” the letter stated.
“We recognize that the Meaningful Use Program has been a catalyst in the widespread adoption of health information technology across the country,” Ellmers' letter stated. The congresswoman was elected to a third term in November and worked as a registered nurse for more than 20 years. “However, we remain convinced that program success hinges on addressing the 2015 reporting period requirements.”
Typically, under the program, the CMS has required providers trying to achieve meaningful use in the first year of a program stage to attest to having met meaningful use for 90 consecutive days. That period typically increases to 365 days of meaningful use for providers in the second year of a program stage.
Changing the reporting period “would give providers much-needed time to safely and effectively implement certified technology and continue their 'meaningful use' journey,” the letter said.
The legislators' missive landed on Burwell's desk just as mixed news about the program emerged from CMS data.
Earlier this week, the CMS reported that more than a quarter million physicians and other eligible healthcare professionals will see their 2015 Medicare payments cut by 1% for failing to meet program standards for meaningful use of EHRs at the Stage 1 criteria level.
The announcement elicited calls for a program overhaul from physician and hospital groups, with American Medical Association President-Elect Dr. Steven Stack, saying the AMA was “appalled by the news.”
More than 200 hospitals also face 1% Medicare payments reductions for missing their Stage 1 meaningful-use target.
The estimated number of hospitals and physicians and other eligible professionals, or EPs, that could participate in the EHR incentive-payment program has changed over time, but according to CMS estimates released in August, there were 4,993 hospitals and 537,600 physicians and other EPs deemed eligible.
Not all had sought reimbursements for the first two payment years of the program in 2011 and 2012.
But, according to an August analysis of a CMS report, about 2,500 hospitals and 168,000 physicians and other EPs had met Stage 1 requirements in 2011 and 2012.
Those achievements would have obligated them to meet more stringent Stage 2 requirements in 2014.
The feds relaxed this requirement for some providers in August.
About 67% of those hospitals scheduled to meet Stage 2 this year attested to meeting those requirements as of Dec. 1 this year, a doubling of hospital attestations in a single month, according to the CMS.
Hospitals have until the end of the month to complete their attestation filings, leaving the possibility that more will file their attestations and boost that percentage.
But Chantal Worzala, the American Hospital Association's director of policy for health information technology, said that percentage won't increase much, since the hospital payment period under the program ended with the fiscal year on Sept. 30, and most hospitals that could attest to having met program requirements have done so already.
The CMS also reported that only about 10% of physicians and other EPs who were similarly scheduled to move up to Stage 2 this year had done so by Dec. 1. But the payment period for physicians and EPs doesn't end until Dec. 31, and they have until the end of February to attest, so their attestation percentage is likely to rise.
Ellmers looked at the CMS data and saw a bleaker picture, however. Her letter noted that less than 35% of all hospitals and only 4% of physicians and other EPs (including both those that were eligible to step up to Stage 2 and those that were not), had demonstrated that they had met Stage 2 so far.
“With such extremely low attestation rates, we are unclear why HHS maintains that healthcare providers, hospitals and physicians alike must perform a full-year EHR reporting period in 2015,” Ellmers' letter stated. Immediate action is needed, she said, since for hospitals, the reporting period began with the start of fiscal 2015 on Oct. 1, 2014.
The letter asked for a response from Burwell within 30 days.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn