New CMS rule changes meaningful use requirements

October 08, 2015

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) this week published new rules for the current and final stages of the electronic health record (EHR) incentive program.

In publishing the rule, CMS acknowledged the difficulties physicians have experienced with meeting meaningful use requirements. The regulations announced are intended to ease the reporting burden for providers, support interoperability and improve patient outcomes.

While the modified rules for years 2015-2017 are final, the stage 3 portion of the final rules were released with the opportunity for public comment, with the expectation that CMS will revise stage 3 in the coming months.

Major provisions of the final rule include:

  • In 2015-2017, eligible professionals will be responsible for 10 objectives including one public health reporting objective, down from 18 total objectives in prior stages in 2015-2017.

  • Medicare providers switching EHR vendors or who have other technology difficulties are encouraged to apply for a hardship exception.

  • The reporting period is reduced from a full calendar year to 90 days for all providers in 2015, for new participants in 2016 and 2017, and for any provider who begins stage 3 in 2017.

  • While eligible professionals are voluntarily able to begin stage 3 in 2017, CMS emphasizes that all providers will be required to comply with stage 3 requirements beginning in 2018 using 2015 certified EHR technology.

  • The 60-day public comment period will allow CMS to gather additional feedback about the way these rules will interact with the Medicare payment reform legislation passed earlier this year (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, also known as MACRA). MACRA, which replaces the sustainable growth rate formula, establishes a merit-based incentive payment system. Achieving meaningful use will be a component of physicians’ compensation under the MACRA payment scheme.

    The final rule synchronizes reporting under the EHR incentive programs to end the separate stages of meaningful use in order to transition physicians to the new payment scheme under MACRA.

    While CMS made significant changes to the meaningful use program, the California Medical Association (CMA) continues to advocate for greater reform to make the program less burdensome.

    For more information on the federal EHR incentive program and meaningful use, see CMA On-Call documents #4301, "Electronic Health Records: Federal Incentive Program"; #4302, "Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records"; and #4305 "EHR Meaningful Use: Stage 2." These and other On-Call documents are available free to members in CMA's onlineHealth Law Library. Also available is to download is Meaningful Use Modifications: Stage 1, 2 and 3 CMS October 2015 Final Rule.


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