CMS Adds Vendor Unreadiness To Meaningful Use Hardship Exemptions

Posted on March 11, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

After watching providers struggle to get their vendors in line for the next round of attestations, CMS has decided to give hospitals a break where vendor unreadiness is concerned in meeting Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements.

Until recently, lack of infrastructure and unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances were the only criteria CMS would consider in granting hardship exemptions to providers struggling with reading Stage 2 requirements.

Now, CMS has taken a new step demonstrating that it understands that EMR vendors are not up to speed many cases. CMS has added “2014 EHR vendor issues” as an acceptable reason to receive a hardship exemption to Stage 2 requirements.

To qualify for this exemption, the hospital’s EHR vendor must have been unable to obtain 2014 certification of the hospital was unable to implement Meaningful  Use due to 2014 EHR certification delays. According to the form required to apply for this exemption, “circumstances must be beyond the Hospital’s control and the Hospital must explicitly outline of the circumstances significantly impaired the Hospital’s ability to meet Meaningful Use.”

CMS has also offered additional hardship exemptions to eligible professionals. Eligible professionals can use “lack of control over the availability of Certified EHR Technology” and “lack of Face-to-Face interaction” as well as EHR vendor issues lack of infrastructure and unforeseen/uncontrollable circumstances.

The expansion of hardship exemptions follows a letter that was sent by six Republican senators last week to CMS requesting clarification of the qualification criteria for the hardship program. The Senators, in their letter, asked CMS how hardship categories might be expanded.

As I see it, it’s good to give providers a break under these circumstances, as they can hardly control whether their vendors have their act together. The question is, how long can CMS continue to give providers and vendors exemptions without undermining their larger policy goals?