Congress considers bill to modify MU requirements for ambulatory surgical centers

Congress considers new bill to modify MU requirements for ambulatory surgical settings

Organizations throughout the health care industry, including leaders like the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, have been working toward convincing Congress to make changes to the meaningful use requirements. Health professionals are hoping for more flexible standards that physicians will be able to meet with greater ease than the current requirements. A bill that would push these modifications to meaningful use requirements for ambulatory surgery centers was recently passed by the Senate and is waiting on a vote by the House of Representatives. 

New bill pushes MU flexibility
The Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015 will modify the current law for providers who are eligible to partake in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' EHR Incentive Programs. It will also work toward making Medicare payment adjustments to reduce the number of penalties eligible health professionals who fail to meet the requirements receive. 

The bill was introduced in May, but has since fallen under the radar until now. It is sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance before receiving an amendment. It contains four Congressional findings that offer a detailed summary of the meaningful use obstacles commonly faced by ambulatory surgical centers, specifically in regard to patient encounters. 

Two of the four findings include that the CMS defines providers who use electronic health records to meet meaningful use requirements as eligible professionals who have at least 50 percent of the outpatient encounters at practices or care settings that feature EHR systems. Congress also found that ambulatory surgery centers were not covered under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009. This is significant, as the act established the incentives and certification standards for adopting electronic health records in both practices and hospital settings. 

Amendment aims to enhance patient encounters
Patient encounters in ambulatory surgical centers are one of the main focuses of the amendments set to take place with the new bill. The legislation states that any patient encounter of an eligible professional that took place in an ambulatory surgical setting for a payment year after 2015 should not be treated as a patient encounter when determining whether or not the eligible provider qualifies as a meaningful use EHR user. The bill also noted that the secretary can apply the clause by program instruction. 

So far, the bill has received the support of major industry organizations, including the CHIME and the American Medical Association. In addition to the patient encounter amendment the legislation features, it has five clear goals for the industry if implemented. 

The objectives include creating more room for a larger number of hardship exemptions, enhancing EHR interoperability and a postponement of the stage 3 meaningful use standards until 2017 or 75 percent of health care facilities are able to meet the current stage 2 requirements. The bill will also establish a 90-day reporting period and make the stage 3 requirements less repetitive. 

Before the Senate passed the new bill, the House of Representatives had received new legislation that would modify the timeline for the EHR Incentive Programs sponsored by Representative Renee Ellmers called the Further Flexibility in HIT Reporting and Advancing Interoperability Act.

An almost identical bill, HR 887, has been awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives since it was introduced on Feb. 11. Although it continues to receive very little activity, health professionals across the sector are hoping that the new bill has better luck. As Congress continues to assess the proposed changes, many hospitals are asking that the CMS and the Department of Health and Human Services hasten the modification process to the meaningful use requirements between 2015 and 2017 to avoid any setbacks that may come as a result.