Flex-IT 2 bill calls for meaningful use relief

AMA, CHIME give proposed legislation thumbs up
By Bernie Monegain
10:14 AM
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Rep. Renee Ellmers

New legislation introduced Thursday by Republican North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers provides relief from the government's meaningful use requirements -- and puts Stage 3 on hold indefinitely.

The bill received kudos from the American Medical Association and the College of Health Information Management Executives, which represents more than 1,400 CIOs and health IT professionals.

Called the Flex-IT 2 Act, it halts any rulemaking for Stage 3 of the program at least until 2017. Moreover, it would prevent the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from going forward with finalizing Stage 3 rules until it either finishes the Merit-based Incentive Payment System rules  called for in the "Doc Fix" bill enacted this past April, or until at least 75 percent of hospitals and providers attest to Stage 2 of the program.

In introducing the bill, H.R. 3309, Ellmers pointed out that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mere 19 percent of providers have met Stage 2 attestation requirements, and 48 percent of hospitals had done so.

[See also: New bill aims to ease MU reporting rules.]

The low attestation rate is "a clear sign that physicians, hospitals and healthcare providers are challenged in meeting CMS' onerous requirements," she wrote in a statement on her website.

"Given this basic fact," she added. "I’m uncertain why CMS would continue to push forward with a Stage 3 rule. From my conversations with doctors back home, it is clear they are eager for relief."

Yes, indeed, say AMA officials.

"The meaningful use program has spurred 80 percent of physicians to implement EHRs in their practices, but the AMA has long held that the program's ambitious timetable and prescriptive approach has produced undesired consequences that have directly hindered the ability of EHR technology to perform as an effective clinical tool for patients and physicians," AMA officials write in a news release posted on the AMA website.

"The AMA thanks Rep. Ellmers for sharing our deep concern with a meaningful use program that continues to move ahead without first fixing barriers faced by physicians, hospitals, vendors and patients," AMA President Steven J. Stack, MD, states in the release.

"This important bill addresses many of the fundamental shortcomings in government regulations that have made many EHR systems very difficult to use," Stack added. "We heard loud and clear from physicians at the AMA's first-ever town hall meeting on EHRs and the Meaningful Use program that the systems they use are cumbersome, poorly designed and unable to 'talk' to each other thereby preventing necessary transmission of patient medical information."

[See also: AMA docs fed up with EHR woes.]

CHIME President and CEO Russell P. Branzell and CHIME Board Chair Charles E. Christian posted on the organizations's website a joint statement supporting Ellmers bill.

"There is no doubt that the EHR Incentive Payments program has been a vital and successful driver of health IT adoption nationwide, setting the foundation for better population health, improved care delivery and lower costs. However, the ongoing challenges with program implementation must be addressed. Our members believe in the intent and promise of meaningful use, but providers and hospitals alike have been hamstrung by its often overly prescriptive requirements," they said.

In introducing the bill, Ellmers pointed to five provisions:

  1. Delay Stage 3 rulemaking until at least 2017, or MIPS final rules or at least 75 percent of doctors and hospitals are successful in meeting Stage 2 requirements.
  2. Harmonize reporting requirements (MU, PQRS, IQR) to remove duplicative measurement and streamline requirements from CMS.
  3. Institutes a 90-day reporting period for each year, regardless of stage or program experience
  4. Encourages interoperability among EHR systems
  5. Expands hardship exemptions, as they are very narrowly defined under current regulations 

The bill is called Flex-IT 2, because Ellmers had introduced an earlier bill calling for a 90-day reporting period. The bill is likely to be withdrawn as CMS is planning to add the provision in the meaningful use rules.