Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Process Announced to Avoid EHR Penalties in 2017; Apply Now

The government has issued an update to previous rules governing the Electronic Health Records Incentive Program and is now allowing blanket “hardship” exemptions to the program so that clinicians, hospitals, and critical access hospitals can avoid penalties that would have been incurred in 2017 had they not complied with “meaningful use” requirements in 2015.

The deadline to apply for the exemption is July 1 for eligible professionals, hospitals, and critical access hospitals.

The update, which also reduces the amount of information that eligible professionals, hospitals, and critical access hospitals must submit for an exemption, is the result of the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA). This law established that the secretary of Health and Human Services may consider hardship exemptions for “categories” of eligible professionals, hospitals, and critical access hospitals. Prior to this law, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was required to review applications on a case-by-case basis. Under the group application, multiple providers and provider types may apply together using a single submission.

This is the first time that an individual may apply for the hardship exemption on behalf of a group of physicians. This individual may be the physician applicant or the individual filling out the information on behalf of a physician group (for example, a member of the group’s administrative staff). CMS will provide notice of its hardship-exception decisions—which are final and cannot be appealed—via the email address provided on the application.

Applying for the hardship will not prevent a physician from earning an incentive; it simply protects a physician from receiving a meaningful-use penalty. Therefore, physicians who believe that they met the requirements for the 2015 reporting period should still apply for the hardship protection.

The update rectifies problems related to CMS’s delayed notification of the meaningful-use rule regarding exemptions; that delay would have adversely impacted many physician practices. The final rule was released last October, which left less than 90 days for physicians to submit data for what should have been a 90-day reporting period before the end of 2015. Because of this delay, the hardship category applies to all physicians.

The new applications and instructions for a hardship exception from the Medicare Electronic Health Records Incentive Program 2017 payment adjustment are posted at the CMS website. For more information, contact APA’s Department of Practice Management and Delivery Systems at practicemanagement@psych.org.

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