In February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clarified terms for a new reason for granting hardship exceptions to healthcare providers struggling to meet federal benchmarks for reporting data to the government.

If you’re among the exasperated, read on, because you can now save potentially thousands of dollars in penalties.


The new provisions

Under newly defined provisions, you can claim a hardship exception for issues related to insufficient time to meet Meaningful Use reporting requirements for 2015, relating to the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs).

As you may recall, CMS delayed issuing a final rule on 2015 reporting requirements until last fall. Providers across the nation complained, saying they did not have enough time to make the necessary shift to new reporting standards.

This new hardship provision acknowledges that. Those who apply for the exception will need to sign a sworn statement, attesting to difficulties due to time constraints.

But the rest will be easy. In its FAQ, CMS says it will not require providers or hospitals to submit documentation for any hardship category, and it will not review supporting documentation on a case-by-case basis.

To the contrary, CMS specifies it will “use the identifying information to approve the hardship exception for each provider listed on the application.” Providers still should keep records of their circumstances, CMS says.


Why apply?

On its website, The American Medical Association (AMA) “is encouraging ALL physicians, subject to the 2015 Medicare MU program, to apply for a hardship exception.” As AMA points out, if successful, they will avoid reductions in reimbursements in 2017, yet they can still be eligible to receive an EHR incentive payment.

Another point to consider: Even for providers who believe they are meeting requirements, federal audits may turn up deficiencies, resulting in potential penalties.


Points to remember

If you plan to apply, be sure to note the extended deadline for hardship exception applications: July 1, 2016, for both professionals and hospitals, including Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs).

For those new to Meaningful Use reporting, keep in mind that there are no longer the so-called Stage 1 and Stage 2 reporting requirements. Those have been replaced by what is called Modified Stage 2 reporting, which includes a set of benchmarks in place through 2017.

For providers who have no plans to attest to Meaningful Use, expect a 3% reduction in Medicare reimbursements for 2017.

Note that CAHs should use the form specific for the CAH hardship exceptions related to an EHR reporting period in 2015. CAHs that have already submitted a form for 2015 are not required to resubmit.


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