Flex-IT Act reintroduced to shorten meaningful use, again
Thursday, January 15, 2015
The Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-IT) Act of 2015, a reiteration of a bill introduced in Congress in 2014, has been introduced by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
According to the statement released by the members of Congress who drafted the bill, H.R. 270 would ensure that healthcare providers receive the flexibility "they need to successfully comply with HHS's meaningful use program."
Previously introduced in the 113th Congress, the Flex-IT Act received bipartisan support and had 23 co-sponsors. In a nutshell, the Flex-IT Act allows providers the option to choose any three-month quarter for an EHR reporting period to qualify for meaningful use in 2015, as opposed to a full year, as is currently the case.
"This shortened reporting period would be an important step in addressing the challenges faced by doctors, hospitals and other medical providers while avoiding threats to patient safety due to the rigid reporting period currently in place," Ellmers said in a statement.
The full-year reporting period has been met with much criticism and has "sparked much outrage in the healthcare industry," as is evidenced in the low attestation numbers reported in 2014.
According to reports released in December by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only 4 percent of physicians and less than 35 percent of hospitals achieved Stage 2 meaningful use requirements. CMS also announced that beginning this month 257,000 physicians will be penalized for failing to meet meaningful use in 2014.
With the latest data available, more than one-third of hospitals that expected to demonstrate Stage 2 meaningful use in 2014 had to file for a hardship exception or meet Stage 1 requirements again. In 2015, CMS data indicated more than 3,900 hospitals and 260,000 physicians will have to meet Stage 2 requirements. However, CHIME estimates that more than half will likely seek further hardship exceptions or face penalties in 2015.
Ellmers said the updated legislation will ensure continued momentum toward the goals of the meaningful use program, including improved care coordination and interoperability.
"There is a tremendous need for our healthcare providers to have flexibility in meeting HHS's stiff deadlines, and this is precisely why I am reintroducing the Flex-IT Act," Ellmers said. "The time constraints imposed on doctors and hospitals are inflexible and simply unmanageable — and this is evident by the dreadful Stage 2 meaningful use attestation numbers released by CMS late last year.
"It's hard to comprehend how HHS can move forward to full-year reporting when the numbers for 90-day reporting are so low — particularly when noting that half of the physicians in our country are now facing costly fines," she added. "Physicians, hospitals and healthcare providers in our districts are eager for relief and are ready for this legislation to move forward. My colleague, Congressman Ron Kind, and I are committed to the passage of the Flex-IT Act."
Many who are watching the development have been urging HHS to shorten the reporting period for 2015, and many have voice their concerns to both lawmakers and HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. HHS, to this point, has left the reporting period at a full year.
Per FierceEMR, industry stakeholders quickly praised the reintroduction of the FLEX-IT Act: "The American Hospital Association called the shorter reporting period a 'necessary adjustment' for hospitals already struggling to comply with the meaningful use requirements. Meanwhile, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives called the bill the beginning of a 'much-needed course correction.'"
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