The goal of the meaningful use standards is to ensure that providers who are eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs are using their electronic health record systems to enhance care quality for their patients. If they do not meet the meaningful use requirements, they will receive a payment penalty from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services next year. Providers who try attesting to the meaningful use standards under the EHR Incentive Programs have run into problems in the past, finding a series of hurdles standing in the way of earning their incentive payments from the CMS.
Providers receive another opportunity for hardship exemption
Providers are able to file for hardship exemptions through opportunities provided by the CMS. After receiving submissions, the CMS reviews each application and decides whether it will exempt applicants from the payment penalties that others would have to deal with if they did not adhere to the meaningful use standards. The CMS announced that Medicare-eligible providers have another chance to file for hardship exemption by July 1 to avoid payment penalties beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.
The CMS website offers access to the hardship exemption application for individual eligible professionals. However, a different application is offered if providers are filing a hardship exemption as a part of several Medicare-eligible professionals. All interested providers can also find information that is essential to the application process, including instructions for filing the application, on the CMS website under the EHR Incentive Programs portion of the site.
To assist health professionals even further, the CMS website also offers specific examples of what would allow providers to be exempt from the payment penalties in 2016. These examples are important for providers to familiarize themselves with, as there are some specific situations in which the CMS would consider exemption, while other issues may not qualify as easily as applicants may assume.
While filing for exemption, a particular circumstance that is preventing the applicant from attesting to meaningful use standards must be listed. The providers will also have to include detailed information regarding how the issue has stopped their practices from meeting the meaningful use requirements.
The CMS website lists special circumstances
There are specific categories under the hardship exemption that call for additional documentation from eligible applicants. Health professionals must apply by July 1 so the CMS can adequately assess each application and consider hardship exemption for each submission.
There are certain Medicaid-only health care workers without claims to Medicare who cannot participate in the Medicare EHR Incentive Programs. They are not considered Medicare-eligible professionals and will not need to apply for any exemptions or be impacted by the payment adjustments.
However, according to the CMS website, there are also certain health professionals who will be exempt from the EHR Incentive Programs without needing to apply. There are three categories of providers who will immediately be exempt, including any new eligible providers and health professionals who work in a hospital and perform more than 90 percent of the services in an emergency department or inpatient setting. Providers practicing nuclear medicine or specific specialties, such as pathology and radiology, will also automatically be exempt.
The CMS will examine Medicare data for each of these health professionals to decide if an exemption for the payment penalty should be given immediately. Providers should send their applications either electronically or through direct mail before noon on July 1 in order to be considered. If they receive an exemption, it will be valid for the upcoming year. However, if providers still cannot meet the meaningful use standards after their exemption expires, they will have to submit another application for review.