July 1 Deadline to Apply for EHR Hardship Exception Looms

June 17, 2016 05:03 pm Sheri Porter

It's once again time to remind family physicians of an important deadline that could prevent a 3 percent cut in their Medicare payments in 2017.

[Hand holding magnifying glass over calendar, focusing on July 1]

If you are a Medicare-participating physician and did not successfully participate in the Medicare Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program in 2015, take time now to request a hardship exception(www.cms.gov) from CMS.

The hardship application deadline is July 1.

If a looming deadline isn't incentive enough to act, remember that in February 2016, CMS gave physicians leeway to use the hardship exception as a safeguard against accruing a possible meaningful use penalty when it made this statement in an online FAQ(questions.cms.gov):

"If a provider cannot attest for a 2015 reporting period or believes their attestation may be unsuccessful, the provider can apply for a hardship exception to avoid the payment adjustment in 2017."

Steven Waldren, M.D., director of the AAFP's Alliance for eHealth Innovation, encouraged physicians to take advantage of the hardship exception if it applies to their situation, but he cautioned that doing so should be considered a stop-gap measure.

"Family physicians should understand that CMS' approval of exemption status will not be granted indefinitely, and at some point, penalties will ensue," said Waldren.

"The exemption was created to serve more as a 'bridge therapy' toward EHR adoption for those physicians experiencing implementation challenges rather than a 'pass' not to adopt," he added.

Without endorsing any particular product, Waldren noted that at least one EHR system on the market is free and could help physicians meet the federal government's mandatory reporting criteria. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to weigh in deciding whether free EHR technology makes sense for a given physician's practice. Contact Waldren for additional information.

In addition, Waldren confirmed that many regional extension centers (RECs) continue to offer free resources, which are grant-funded, to assist small and/or rural practices in certified EHR implementation and electronic reporting.

Search by ZIP code(www.healthit.gov) to find a REC in your state.

Related AAFP News Coverage
New MU Hardship Exemption Application Deadline: July 1

More From AAFP
Meaningful Use and Your Practice

Additional Resources
CMS: Hardship Exception Application(www.cms.gov)

CMS Hardship Exception Instructions(www.cms.gov)