AMDIS, CHIME lobby Congress to reduce 2015 MU reporting period

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 - Stopwatch

The heads of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS) and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) spent Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. lobbying congressman on behalf of a piece of legislation that would allow providers the chance to meet Meaningful Use requirement through a shorter reporting period in 2015.

H.R. 5481—The Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-It) Act of 2014—was introduced Tuesday of this week by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah). It would allow providers to report their health IT upgrades in 2015 through a 90-day reporting rather than the full-year reporting period required by the final rule issued August 29 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC).

When that final rule was released in August, CHIME’s CEO and President Russell Branzell, CHCIO, was quick to sound the alarm on the refusal of CMS and ONC to reduce the reporting period, arguing that “it has all but ensured that industry struggles will continue well beyond 2014.”

Since then, CHIME, AMDIS and a host of other hospital and physician groups have taken the offensive on the issue, lobbying both the administration and Congress to take action.

On Monday of this week, CHIME, AMDIS and more than a dozen other organizations sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell asking HHS to provide for a shortened 90-day EHR reporting period in 2015. Now they’re lobbying Congress to see if a legislative end around is a possible solution.

“All indications at this point is that [the proposed legislation] is being positively received,” Branzell said Wednesday afternoon.

Failure to change the reporting requirement will have dire consequences, Branzell said. “With the promise that flexibility was coming people were waiting to see what that flexibility was before they put their Stage 2 certified software in,” he said. “The problem now is that since there is no flexibility for 2015 they basically have between now and Oct. 1 to install the software, get it operational and start collecting data. And that’s a recipe for disaster.”

In that letter to Burwell, CHIME, AMDIS and the other organizations referred to the fact that just 143 hospitals and 3,152 eligible providers have demonstrated an ability to meet Stage 2 requirements using 2014 Edition CEHRT.

“This represents less than 4 percent of the hospitals required to be Stage 2-ready within the next 15 days,” the letter stated. “And while eligible professionals have more time, they are in comparatively worse shape, with only 1.3 percent of their cohort having met the Stage 2 bar thus far.”

Even if the number of hospitals and providers was “increased by a factor of 10, we would still be nowhere close to where we need to be at this point in Stage 2 adoption,” Branzell said. “We’re just very concerned that this is the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back and that people are just going to choose not to participate anymore.”

William F. Bria, MD, CMIO at the HCI Group in Jacksonville, Fla., and chair of AMDIS, referred to a meeting he had with one congressman that was also attended by Marc Probst, CIO of the 22-hospital system Intermountain Healthcare.

Intermountain Health has already announced that it won’t be attesting for Meaningful Use Stage 2 in 2014, which means it is forgoing incentive payment for 2014 and will also trigger penalties in 2016.

“Considering what kind of system Intermountain Health is—one of the best in the country—it just gives you an insight into what everyone else is able to do,” said Bria. “So it’s not going to be very pretty.”

There’s nothing mysterious at work here, Bria added, pointing out that the problems providers are having attesting for Meaningful Use Stage 2 are well known.

“If the agenda is to actually achieve the goals of the program and you understand where American hospitals are in terms of achieving the metrics of Meaningful Use Stage 2, then why isn’t there a willingness to give hospitals the opportunity to meet those goals?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t you make adjustments? The vast majority [of hospitals] aren’t going to make it if you leave things the way they are.”

Bria said that while the legislators he talked to understand that what AMDIS and CHIME are asking for makes sense, he is skeptical how successful the legislative approach will be considering the level of gridlock currently found on Capitol Hill.

Branzell said that in an ideal world the amount of pressure being placed on CMS and ONC to adjust the reporting period will force it to change their minds and reissue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making. “But at this point we don’t see that happening,” he said. “So we’ll press on and try to get the bill through the House and Senate and get it passed.”

While Branzell is hopeful the legislation will eventually pass, one problem facing the bill’s proponents is that they are dealing with a restricted legislative time frame. Congress is only in session for a few days before the November election, so it’s unlikely any action will be taken on the legislation until Congress returns.