37 senators call for flexibility in meeting meaningful use criteria

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Thirty-seven U.S. Senators, led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote a letter requesting improvements in a proposed rule for distributing stimulus funds for health IT published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to increase flexibility and encourage participation among providers.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the senators commended CMS’ notice of proposed rulemaking regarding meaningful use of health IT, published on Jan. 13, and emphasized the importance of health IT in lowering costs and improving patient care and requested a temporary deferral for certain requirements to boost participation in the long term.

“To help ensure success in achieving meaningful use, we recommend that the proposed rule be modified from its current ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to one that allows providers to defer a limited set of criteria under Stage 1 of meaningful use while preserving a floor of mandatory functional use requirements, as recommended by the Health IT Policy Committee,” wrote the authors of the letter.

“The deferment would only be temporary, as all criteria should be met over the course of the incentive payment program,” the senators added.

The senators also encouraged Sebelius to work to amend a portion of CMS’ proposed rule that would limit certain physicians from receiving health IT incentives. According to the senators, outpatient physicians practicing adjacent to hospitals were excluded from health IT incentive eligibility. A legislative fix to that portion of the rule was included in the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act that the Senate approved on March 10.

The senators added that the use of Medicare provider numbers to distinguish hospitals for the purpose of receiving incentive payments for meaningful use “may create some unintended inequities.”

“A single provider number can sometimes encompass multiple campuses for a hospital system. Therefore, a hospital system with multiple provider numbers will be eligible for more incentive payments than would be a hospital system of equal size with a single provider number. We urge you to consider how this shortcoming could be best addressed,” the senators concluded.