Senate proposes changes to MU requirements as they enter into their final stage

Congress proposes changes to MU standards as they enter final stage

The stage 3 meaningful use standards, which are currently under development, have continued to attract comments from the industry's leading organizations and federal agencies. Experts predict that in the next few years, the majority of health care providers will have adopted certified electronic health record systems to participate in the EHR Incentive Programs. As the meaningful use standards enter into their final stage, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is researching ways to push the rules in the right direction. 

Last-minute changes needed for stage 3 MU
The Senate committee feels that there are essential changes that should be made before the new rules are implemented. The members of the committee are hoping to work alongside eligible physicians and hospitals to help get the EHR Incentive Programs back on track. The ultimate goal is to make the meaningful use standards a tool that health professionals can reference as they care for their patients instead of a set of intimidating rules.

"Our goal is to identify the 5 or 6 steps we can take to improve electronic health records – a technology that has great promise, but has, through bad policy and bad incentives, run off track," Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the committee, said in prepared remarks. "To put it bluntly, physicians and doctors have said to me that they are literally 'terrified' on the next implementation stage of electronic health records because of its complexity and because of the fines that will be levied," he continued.

The June 10 hearing was the first in the series of hearings on EHR adoption, interoperability and health data exchange held by the committee. Participants in the first meeting focused on health information exchange and laid the groundwork for Alexander's official statement regarding the progress of the meaningful use standards under the EHR Incentive Programs. He will also be reporting on the setbacks the industry has faced due to the challenging stage 2 requirements. 

"Patients will receive better care if we can improve the exchange of information so that a patient's health record can be accessed by physicians and pharmacists in an efficient and reliable way – the term industry experts use for this exchange of information is interoperability," explained Alexander.

Alexander was one of the five senators who expressed how the meaningful use program needed updates in 2013. He believed that it made it hard for providers to achieve the triple aim.

Congress strives to make MU standards more provider-friendly
Almost 500,000 health professionals who are enrolled in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs have received financial incentives. However, Alexander pointed out that while this number is high, a mere 11 percent have succeeded in adhering to the stage 2 meaningful use requirements.

Over 257,000 eligible providers have faced a 1-percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements after failing to comply to the stage 2 standards. These figures have pushed the committee to contribute to the stage 3 meaningful use requirements before they are finalized. 

While moving through the hearings quickly to make any necessary changes to the EHR Incentive Programs is a priority, the committee has yet to set any definitive deadline for completing its recommendations. 

Although many government committees and industry organizations have offered their ideas and suggestions, only the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology have been successful at altering the meaningful use requirements.

After announcing the topics for the upcoming hearings – EHR use and patient access to health data – the committee also said which senators would be leading the hearings, including Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, respectively.