CMS amends Meaningful Use hardship exemption to include EHR vendor delays

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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Monday updated language in its "hardship exception" applications for Fiscal Year 2015 for both eligible hospitals and eligible professionals participating in the Medicare Meaningful Use incentive program. The updates come in the wake of hardship exemption flexibility announced Feb. 27 at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla.

In both the applications for hospitals and eligible professionals, CMS added language that specifies such organizations or individuals can apply for hardship exemptions in the event of "2014 EHR vendor issues."

>> UPDATE: At 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, CMS announced the change via email and posted updated .pdf guidance documents for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals

The applications note that eligible hospitals and providers now can apply for hardship exemptions in the event that, "during the fiscal year [2014] preceding the payment adjustment year [2015], the hospital's EHR vendor was unable to obtain 2014 certification or the hospital was unable to implement Meaningful Use due to 2014 EHR certification delays."

Eligible hospitals will have until until midnight, April 1, 2014, to apply for the exemption, while eligible professionals will have until July 1, 2014. If approved, an exemption will be valid for one payment year.

All determinations made by CMS "or their designee" will be final and cannot be appealed, according to the applications.

No word on whether CMS will add more hardship exemption categories in addition to the EHR vendor issues exemption. 

In an interview with FierceHealthIT last week, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives President and CEO Russell Branzell said that until the hardship exemption plan is put into operation, it will be hard to tell if it will be sufficient enough to help providers through difficulties with Stage 2 of Meaningful Use.

"It really comes down to whether [CMS] truly want(s) to provide the flexibility that is needed now--organization by organization--instead of a broad, sweeping approach," Branzell said. "Do they have the capacity to handle several hundred--if not several thousand--applications for hardship?"

In a letter sent to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner March 6, six Republican senators asked for "immediate" clarification on the hardship exemptions.

To learn more:
- here's the eligible hospitals application (.pdf)
- check out the application for EPs (.pdf)
- here are the updated .pdf guidance documents for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals

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