The chorus of voices from the AAFP and other physician organizations urging CMS to revamp meaningful use regulations may have reached a level the agency could not ignore.
On Jan. 29, CMS announced its intent in coming months to make its Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive programs for 2015 easier for physicians.
"These intended changes would help to reduce the reporting burden on providers while supporting the long-term goals of the program," said Patrick Conway, M.D., CMS deputy administrator for innovation, in a Jan. 29 blog post.(blog.cms.gov)
Conway said changes under consideration include reducing the program's complexity and shortening the EHR reporting period in 2015 from a full year to just 90 days.
AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., welcomed the news in a Jan. 30 statement and said the Academy had repeatedly called on CMS to "ease the undue administrative burden placed on physician practices by cumbersome reporting requirements."
Wergin pointed out that family physicians have led the way in implementing EHRs and will play a central role as the national focus turns to interoperability.
- CMS will propose a new rule this spring aimed at making participation in the meaningful use program easier for physicians in 2015.
- CMS is considering shortening the 2015 meaningful use reporting period to 90 days, a change the AAFP has strongly advocated.
- AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., noted that the Academy had repeatedly asked the agency to eliminate cumbersome reporting processes.
"We continue to support the long-term goals of the meaningful use program and share the Department of Health and Human Services' commitment to elevating patient-centered care and improving health outcomes, but greater flexibility is needed to support the providers and make participation less daunting," said Wergin.
The goal of the program should be to help physicians and hospitals use EHRs to improve patient care, "not to penalize those who try but fall short," he added.
Conway noted that the launch of the government's EHR incentive programs in 2011 sparked unprecedented growth in the implementation and meaningful use of EHRs.
"To date, more than 400,000 eligible providers have joined the ranks of hospitals and professionals that have adopted or are meaningfully using EHRs," wrote Conway. "This means that millions of patients across the nation are benefitting from the potential of better coordinated care among professionals, more accurate prescribing and improved communication."
The new rule, expected to be released in the next few months, would be "responsive to provider concerns about software implementation, information exchange readiness and other related concerns in 2015," said Conway.
He stressed that the work outlined in the blog post is unrelated to the pending release of a meaningful use stage three rule in March; that rule will apply to the meaningful use of EHRs in 2017 and beyond.
The AAFP has been unwavering in its efforts to ensure that family physicians have a fair shot at complying with meaningful use, earning incentive payments and avoiding penalties.
For instance, in a June 2014 letter(2 page PDF) to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, B.S.N., M.H.A., the AAFP urged CMS to provide more flexibility and cited the "all-or-nothing" structure of the program as discouraging to physicians who were penalized even after having made some progress.
Then, in September, the AAFP joined(3 page PDF) more than a dozen organizations in asking HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to, among other things, adjust meaningful use timelines to give physicians a better chance at successful participation.
And in October, a letter(2 page PDF) sent to Burwell by the AAFP and other national physician organizations expressed great concern with the current state of interoperability and usability of the nation's health information technology. "Our respective members believe that the meaningful use program and greater adoption of health IT could promote improvements in patient safety, care quality and efficiency. Yet based on our collective member experience, we are facing growing barriers to achieving these goals," said the organizations.
Related AAFP News Coverage
Modifications to CMS' Meaningful Use Rule Finalized for 2014
AAFP Appreciates Added Flexibility, Laments Poor Timing
More From AAFP
In The Trenches Blog: Put the Baseball Bat Down: What the AAFP is Doing to Address EHR Issues
CMS: EHR Incentive Programs(www.cms.gov)