Providers welcome meaningful use relief

Concerns remain about how "flexibility" will be defined

There will be no delay for ICD-10 conversion. But when CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced Thursday at HIMSS14 that CMS would be flexible on hardship exemptions for meaningful use requirements, it provided some of the relief healthcare providers – and the professional organizations that represent them – have been seeking.

"Such relief is vitally important for the future success of meaningful use, as ICD-10 deadlines and continued shifts in payment policies demand an ever-increasing amount of IT and workforce resources," CHIME President and CEO Russell P. Branzell and CHIME Board Chairman Randy McCleese said in statement issued after Tavenner’s keynote.

"If the expansion of the office’s EHR Hardship Exceptions provides the kind of relief the industry desperately needs, CHIME pledges to assist policymakers in every way possible," the statement continued. "Should CMS choose to define the new hardship exceptions in a way that does not address the core concerns of our industry we will continue to seek the kind of flexibility that nearly 50 national healthcare organizations communicated to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on February 21, 2014."

[See also: CHIME seeks Stage 2 delay, defends MU.]

The Feb. 21 letter called on Sebelius to extend the timeline providers had to implement 2014-certified EHRs in order to meet Stage 2 requirements and also to provide flexibility to meaningful use requirements so that as many providers as possible could achieve success in the program.

Tavenner’s announcement on Thursday had been foreshadowed at HIMSS14 at least twice. At the CHIME CIO Forum on Sunday, where Branzell interviewed Jacob Reider, ONC’s chief medical officer and Robert Tagalicod, director of the Office of E-Health Standards and Services at CMS, Tagalicod suggested relief was on the way.

"We understand the B word – the burden that’s out there," Tagalicod told hundreds of CIOs at the forum. "We’re looking at things in order to align them better – to see where there is latitude."

[See also: ICD-10 cost a 'crushing burden' for docs.]

ONC Chief Karen DeSalvo, MD, also hinted at relief in the works during  an interview with reporters on Wednesday at HIMSS14, noting that ONC had received many pleas for help on the meaningful use front.

"We’re listening to that," she said, "and we’re looking for ways that we might be flexible."