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Late program changes could mean Medicare penalties for some in 2015



October 03, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Electronic Health Records Health Information Technology 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that a small subset of physicians participating in the Medicare electronic health records (EHR) Incentive Program may get hit with Medicare penalties next year because the attestation system will not be updated with the expanded hardship exemptions before the October 1 deadline to apply for an exemption. It is uncertain how many participants are at risk, but they are affected by a narrow set of circumstances.


The problem ironically stems from changes authorized in August to provide more flexibility in the program and help providers avoid the same Medicare penalties. Among the changes is an expanded set of hardship exemption categories. Unfortunately, CMS does not expect the system upgrades to be completed in time for all physicians to take advantage of the expanded hardship exemptions and avoid the 2015 penalties.


Affected physicians include those who enrolled in the Medicare EHR incentive program this year or last year and who are using a 2011 edition software (or a hybrid of 2011 and 2014 editions) to achieve stage 1 meaningful use in 2014 and would have been eligible for an expanded hardship exemption this year.


Unfortunately, the website updates that would allow this narrow subset of physicians to apply for a 2014 hardship exemption will not be complete by the October 1 deadline so that they can avoid the 1 percent Medicare penalty in 2015.


Several physician organizations have asked CMS to extend the deadline until after the software upgrade is put into place to bypass the problem.


Incentive payments will not be affected by this system update. All program participants will still have the rest of the year to meet the 2014 meaningful use targets in order to receive their incentive payments. The deadline to report on 2014 meaningful use targets is February 28, 2015.


The CMS EHR Information Center can be reached at (888) 734-6433 and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (Central Time), except federal holidays.


For more information, visit the CMS registration and attestation page.


Contact: Michele Kelly, (213) 226-0338 or mkelly@cmadocs.org.

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