CMS announced towards the end of last month that they have created a new online system, which allows submitting applications for hardship exemption for the Meaningful Use Incentive Program (MU) for EHR technology. The new system also expedites the application process by letting providers choose from a list of categories. This is a change from past times where all requests submitted were categorized as general, and exemption was judged on a case-by-case basis.

Approved late last year, S. 2425, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, facilitated this change for the 2015 reporting year. The new system is not a permanent one, and seeks to aid providers for the same period. Health care providers have until the middle of March to attest to Meaningful Use of EHR technology in 2015. Failing this, they will face a 1 percent downward payment adjustment in 2017, unless they request for exemption due to hardship and are granted this.

The new system brings down the amount of information that providers will need to put up in order to gain hardship exemption. Also, provider groups can give a single application for the entire group, with the categories they can choose from including:

  • Insufficient Internet Activity
  • Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances
  • Disaster o Practice or Hospital Closure
  • Severe Financial Distress
  • EHR Certification/Vendor Issues
  • Lack of Control over the availability of CEHRT
  • Lack of Face-to-Face patient Interaction

The AMA had recently sent out an announcement where it encouraged all physicians in the 2015 Medicare MU program to apply for the exemption. This includes practices that think they have already met the requirements.

The AMA message in question asked them to consider the option, recasting the CMS statement that the agency would broadly accept hardship exemptions because of delays in publication of the program regulations. Applying for hardship does and will not remove the physician’s eligibility or chances of earning an incentive. What it does is protect the practice from receiving an MU penalty.

For this reason, AMA asked physicians who believe that they met the 2015 reporting period MU requirements, to further apply for hardship protection. The program operates on a two-year look-back period, which means that physicians who get an exception for the 2015 Meaningful Use program will be able to avoid penalties in 2017.

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