(Story updated at 1:56 p.m. ET)
The CMS has extended the deadline for hospitals, physicians and other eligible professionals to file applications for so-called “hardship” exemptions from the meaningful-use requirements of the electronic health records incentive payment program.
The new deadline for hospitals, critical-access hospitals (CAHs), physicians and other eligible professionals (EPs) is now July 1, 2016, a brief statement from the CMS said. The previous deadlines were March 15, 2016 for physicians and other EPs, and April 1, 2016 for hospitals and CAHs.
The extension is being granted “so providers have sufficient time to submit their applications to avoid adjustments to their Medicare payments in 2017," according to the statement.
The CMS released new “streamlined” hardship exception application forms, “that reduce the amount of information that EPs, eligible hospitals, and CAHs must submit to apply for an exception,” the agency said.
The new application forms and instructions on filing a hardship exemption are on the CMS website.
Hardships exemption may be granted for multiple reasons, including unavailability of federally tested and certified software capable of meeting the government's requirements. It can also be granted if providers have problems with Internet connectivity or natural disasters.
Last October, in the face of provider pushback, the CMS released a final rule for Stage 3 criteria for the EHR incentive payment program, as well as tweaks to the previous rules for Stage 2. The rule also included a 60-day public comment period, which is unusual for a “final rule.”
The rule's release included a plea by Dr. Patrick Conway, deputy administrator for innovation and quality at the CMS, who asked critics of the program to be patient.
In January, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act was signed into law with a provision claiming to “ensure flexibility in applying the hardship exception for meaningful use for the 2015 EHR reporting period,” which would affect Medicare payment penalties in 2017.
The act enabled the CMS to batch process hardship applications by categories, instead of through the previous case-by-case method. Today's extension is in keeping with the provisions of the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, the CMS said.