On Jan. 22, 2016, CMS issued a new application and sweeping changes to the Medicare Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program hardship exception application process. The changes are intended to temporarily ease the burden on providers seeking exemption from the 2017 Medicare meaningful use payment adjustments.
Highlights of CMS’ guidance include:
- CMS may accept Medicare Meaningful Use Hardship Exception Applications for the 2015 EHR Reporting Period from EPs thru March 15, and from qualifying hospitals thru April 1, 2016.
- While CMS has not stated it will issue blanket exemptions to EPs and hospitals who failed to attest to meaningful use in 2015, the language in Section 2.2.d. of the revised Hardship Exception Application leaves open the possibility that CMS will categorically grant exemptions to those applicants asserting Section 2.2.d as the reason for their failure to timely attest to meaningful use for the 2015 EHR Reporting Period.
- Multiple providers may apply for a Hardship Exception as a group by submitting a single electronic application to CMS that includes each providers’ NPI and CCN.
- CMS’ revised Hardship Exception Application requires less information from the applicant than the old application, permitting easier filing and processing.
The revised application and instructions, which are both accessible here, implement the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 114-115 (Dec. 28, 2015) (PAMPA). PAMPA was passed in the last days of 2015 in the wake of provider frustration created by repeated revisions to the meaningful use criteria and CMS’ delayed release of the Stage 2 Meaningful Use Program Final Rule1 (Final Rule). CMS did not release the Final Rule until early October 2015. Consequently, eligible professionals (physicians and others subject to meaningful use as eligible professionals (EPs)) and qualifying hospitals were left with less than 90 days before year’s end to digest, implement, and attest to meeting the revised program’s criteria; yet, the Final Rule called for a 90 day data reporting period. Many EPs and hospitals also had trouble locating certified EHR technology updated for the new requirements in time to report data for the entire designated 2015 reporting period.