New legislation would provide more flexibility in EHR incentive programs

September 25, 2014
AOA backs legislation to offer a shorter, more flexible reporting period

Proposed legislation backed by the AOA would offer a shorter, more flexible reporting period for providers seeking to comply with the federal government's meaningful use (MU) program.

“The AOA is concerned that certification problems will persist over the coming months.”

At least 12,000 doctors of optometry to date have successfully attested to MU requirements under the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record incentives programs. Despite these gains, the AOA has long called for additional flexibility of these programs.

MU requirements for 2014 allow all providers regardless of their stage of meaningful use to demonstrate MU for just a three-month (or 90-day) EHR reporting period in 2014.  However, for 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clarifies that those physicians not in their first year of the program would be required to participate for a full year.

On Sept. 22, the AOA wrote a letter of support to Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), who is sponsoring a bill to ease this timeline.

The Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-IT) Act of 2014 (H.R. 5481) would allow all participating providers to continue to use a 90-day reporting period in 2015 instead of a full year. "The Flex-IT Act will provide the flexibility providers need while ensuring that the goal of upgrading their technologies is still being managed," Rep. Ellmers said in a statement.

This is important and necessary legislation "that will help take a positive step toward ensuring the meaningful use program is a success," Roger Jordan, O.D., chair of the AOA Federal Relations Committee, wrote in the letter of support to Rep. Ellmers.

Concerns over program requirements persist

CMS is requiring that all physicians have 2014 certified EHR products for next year—though in a final rule it did provide some assistance for those physicians who attest to being unable to fully implement 2014 certified EHRs this year. In general, the AOA did not think the final rule went far enough to assist most users of certified EHRs.

"The AOA is concerned that certification problems will persist over the coming months," Dr. Jordan wrote. This could make it difficult for some physicians to participate for a full calendar year.

The shorter reporting period would also be helpful for those physicians who are required to meet more challenging Stage 2 MU program standards in 2015. Even physicians who spend time educating patients on use of patient portals and secure messaging systems find it challenging to meet these requirements.

"For these reasons, it is clear that Congressional intervention to provide relief to participating optometrists and other physicians is necessary," Dr. Jordan wrote.

The Flex-IT Act of 2014 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

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