Delay Stage 3 meaningful use, senator urges again

'Some hospitals have told me they are "terrified" by Stage 3'
By Bernie Monegain
07:25 AM
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US Senate

Delay Stage 3 meaningful use until 2017 and take time to do it right, urges Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee.

Alexander, who made his plea in a press statement released Wednesday, called for a delay until Jan. 1, 2017, for making final rules for Stage 3 of the federal government's Meaningful Use EHR Incentive Program.

"Patients need an interoperable system that enables doctors and hospitals to share their electronic health records, but the government, doctors, and hospitals need time to do it right," Alexander said.

"Some hospitals have told me they are 'terrified' by Stage 3, Alexander added. "It does not help patients to make these massive changes fast and wrong. It does help patients to do this deliberately and correctly so that doctors and hospitals embrace the changes instead of dread them."

Whether Alexander's plea will prove effective is hard to gauge. The Stage 3 rules reached the Office of Management and Budget Sept. 3, where, along with Stage 2 changes, they are up for review and finalization.

[Related: How does your EHR stack up? See our 2015 satisfaction survey results.]

In his statement today Alexander called for Stage 3 rules to be phased in at a rate that reflects how successfully the program is being implemented. He also urged that the modified rules proposed for Stage 2 of the program be adopted immediately because it would help most doctors and hospitals to comply with the government's requirements.

It's not the first time, the senator puts the prospect of a Stage 3 delay on the table. Just a little more than a month ago, Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to not impose on physicians and hospitals "a system that doesn't work."

Back in May, CHIME, a trade organization that represents more than 1,400 CIOs, called the Stage 3 rules "unworkable."

CHIME CEO and President Russell P. Branzell said though CMS had proposed limited flexibility for meeting objectives, many providers still faced a significant chance of falling short and incurring substantial penalties.

"In order to realize the network effects of meaningful use, we need as many providers as possible participating in the program," he said. "As proposed, this rule may do more to deter, rather than encourage, ongoing participation."

[See also: CHIME: Stage 3 rules 'unworkable']

Today, Alexander bolstered his case for a Stage 3 delay by noting that, beginning this year, the government is assessing penalties on those who have not move to an electronic health record. About 257,000 physicians have begun losing 1 percent of their Medicare reimbursements and 200 hospitals may be losing more than that, the senator said.

He added hat all hospitals and most physicians met the requirements of the first stage of the meaningful use program. However, the Stage 2 requirements  are so complex, he said, that only about 12 percent of eligible physicians and 40 percent of eligible hospitals have been able to comply.

"That is why the government should immediately adopt its proposed modifications to the stage two requirements – so physicians and hospitals have time to adapt to these huge changes," he said.

"Our senate health committee has held five hearings on this electronic health records program," Alexander noted.  "Many of those who testified have urged us to delay making final these stage three requirements in order to really help patients."