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Congress authorizes CMS to grant blanket exemptions for physicians from meaningful use penalties



December 22, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Electronic Health Records Health Information Technology 

Last week, Congress adopted a last-minute bill that allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) the authority to grant a blanket exemption for all eligible physicians from the 2015 meaningful use penalties. This action prevents CMS from implementing Medicare payment penalties for physicians who fail to demonstrate meaningful use of a certified electronic health record (EHR) system in 2015.  


In order to avoid a Medicare payment reduction, physicians must attest that they met the requirements for meaningful use for a period of 90 consecutive days during calendar year 2015. Because CMS published updated regulations on October 16, 2015, eligible professionals were unable to report until fewer than the 90 required days remained in the calendar year.


CMS had stated that it would grant hardship exemptions for 2015 if providers were unable to attest due to the late publishing of the rule, but the law only authorized it to grant such exemptions on a case-by-case basis. This new law grants CMS the authority to make an automatic exemption once it receives a hardship exemption application. It also streamlines the exemption process, alleviating burdensome administrative issues for both physicians and the agency.


Under the new law, physicians are still required to file for a hardship exemption to avoid a payment adjustment for 2015 no later than June 30, 2016. CMS hardship exemption applications will be available in early 2016 at www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms.


The California Medical Association (CMA) and the American Medical Association worked frantically these last few weeks to get the bill passed. CMA extends a huge thank you to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for agreeing to keep the House in session and pass the bill on unanimous consent. 


Contact: Elizabeth McNeil, (800) 786-4262 or emcneil@cmadocs.org.

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