CMS clarifies new  stage 2 MU modifications and stage 3 objectives

CMS clarifies new rules for stage 2 modifications and final stage 3 objectives

Health professionals across the health care industry were worried about what the modified stage 2 meaningful use standards were going to look like after their final update. Not only were the new stage 2 rules being revised, but the stage 3 standards were underway.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released both the modified stage 2 MU rules and the new stage 3 rulings earlier this month. As these bring major changes that eligible providers using electronic health records will have to adapt to, the CMS held a conference call moderated by CMS's Senior Technical Advisor Elizabeth Holland where officials reviewed the details of each new rule.

CMS eases stress over modifications and final rule
According to EHR Intelligence, Holland started the session by advising that all stakeholders read over the new documents fully, mentioning that although both official letters are long, they will answer most of the questions that providers have about the stage 2 and stage 3 standards. The documents with all of the important information, including fact sheets and an FAQ section regarding the modifications rule and the final rule, has been posted to the Federal Register.

The call addressed the concerns of health professionals who felt that they would not be able to meet the new stage 2 or 3 rules in a timely manner. In regard to the stage 2 rulings, Holland explained that providers only have to meet the modified rules starting at their release. The only setback that providers may face is one that stems from the fact that they were not successfully adhering to the MU rules before the modifications.

The updated rules are not the only thing that changed during the modification period. EHR certification rules were also altered, which led Holland to stress that providers should consider the EHR certification standards that their systems meet before taking on a new stage of the EHR Incentive Programs. EHR systems have to be certified to nothing earlier than the 2014 edition for the EHR reporting periods between 2015 and 2017. However, once the reporting period for 2018 begins, EHR systems are going to have to be updated. Until then, providers do not have to worry about replacing their current 2014 edition systems.

Holland clarifies new hardship exemption process
One of the main topics of discussion during the call was why the stage 2 modifications were made in the first place. Holland noted that the updates were made to streamline the entire EHR Incentive Program and better align the stage 2 and 3 objectives. 

Hardship exemptions were a major cause of concern that Holland was sure to address as well. She explained that the new process would only work for health professionals who believed that they were not allowed enough time to properly adhere to the MU guidelines for 2015. 

"Essentially we do have our hardship exception process in place and you can apply for a hardship exception," she said. "But just remember that you do have until February 29 to submit your attestation data. If you submit a hardship exception, your performance in 2015 determines whether you get a payment adjustment in 2017. So if you cannot meet meaningful use in 2015, you would apply for a hardship exception in 2016 so the application period will be open in 2016 for Eps and for hospitals, and you would apply under the extreme and uncontrollable circumstances category."

While the call was meant to provide doctors with detailed information about the new rulings, the CMS hoped that Holland's explanations and clarifications would make health professionals more confident as they aim to tackle the stage 2 modifications and stage 3 rules.