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GOP Senators Welcome Administration’s Major Reversal on Electronic Health Records Deadlines

After repeated calls from GOP senators, doctors and hospitals, the administration overhauls deadlines for stimulus bill’s electronic health records program

May 22, 2014

Washington, D.C. — 

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) welcomed the administration’s reversal this week on electronic health records deadlines, after officials earlier this year refused to grant providers additional time to comply with regulations as groups nationwide requested.

In a proposed rule released Tuesday night, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it would give hospitals and physicians an extra year to implement new regulatory requirements for electronic health records, providing necessary relief for providers across the country struggling to meet the administration’s timeline for adopting new health IT regulatory requirements.  The Senators and 11 of their colleagues asked for this relief in a September 24, 2013, letter and expressed their disappointment that it had not yet been granted in a March 6, 2013, letter.  The senators first warned CMS about failures in their April 2013 report Reboot: Re-Examining the Strategies Needed to Successfully Implement Health IT.

“As with most programs in the stimulus, the funds for the electronic health records program were rushed out with little foresight,” Alexander said. “We heard from groups representing nearly every hospital and doctor in America that this program was at risk of failure and could put providers out of business. I am relieved that the administration has changed its mind and decided to allow more time for providers to make this work.”

Thune said: “Since last year, I have been calling for CMS to listen to the providers and hospitals that are facing challenges in meeting unrealistic deadlines and rules in the EHR meaningful use program. I am pleased the administration has finally listened and I look forward to working with CMS and stakeholders to ensure that transitions to electronic health records are done effectively and efficiently.”

“I am pleased that the Administration finally appears to have taken to heart the need for providers to have more time to make the program work,” Burr said. “Billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent to advance health information technology under the HITECH Act, and we need to ensure that taxpayer funds are not being wasted.”

Enzi said: “When federal bureaucrats design something on paper without listening to those affected, unrealistic goals can be the result.  I’m pleased the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finally decided to listen to us and give the people impacted by these requirements the time they need.”

“Despite their best efforts, I continue to hear from physicians and hospitals across the state of Kansas concerned that they cannot meet the Stage 2 regulations of the electronic health records meaningful use program,” Roberts said. “I am pleased the Administration has finally heeded our warning and granted this relief to our health care providers.”

Health care providers across the country are struggling to meet the requirements of Stage 2 of the electronic health records (EHR) meaningful use program, which demands costly, complicated, and time-consuming technology upgrades by a 2014 deadline. In September 2013, the senators sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting additional time for providers. The administration initially refused that request, and instead announced it would grant narrow hardship exemptions. The senators sent a letter in March expressing disappointment in the decision and asking for details on how the exemptions plan could possibly address such widespread difficulty in meeting the deadlines.

In the March letter to Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the senators noted that close to 50 provider groups representing nearly every hospital, doctor, and vendor organization in America warned CMS that the program is at risk of failure due to the many providers and vendors who may be unable to upgrade their systems in time.

The senators also wrote in the March letter: “The electronic health records (EHR) meaningful use program was enacted in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the “stimulus”).  As with most programs in the stimulus, the funds for EHRs were rushed out with little foresight or long-term planning.  Stage 1 of the program was designed to increase adoption of EHRs, without any thought as to whether those systems would meet the future goals of the program that depend on interoperability.

“Stage 2 regulations of the electronic health records meaningful use program impose new requirements on providers, and due to the lack of foresight in the initial Stage 1 planning, many providers are finding their old technology needs substantial, costly, and time-consuming upgrades.  If providers are unable to meet their new requirements in 2014, they will have to pay steep penalties.  These penalties are unfair to providers who are making good faith efforts to upgrade their electronic health record systems, but do not have enough time or the financial resources to accomplish this upgrade in the timeframe CMS allowed.”