The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has published the process that eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals (EHs) can use to apply for the new "flexible" hardship exemption for the 2015 Meaningful Use reporting year created by the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act.
Under the new process, unveiled Jan. 22, providers can use a new streamlined application form for the hardship exemption that reduces the amount of information needed to apply.
The law, signed by President Barack Obama last month, enables whole "categories" of providers to apply for a hardship exemption. Many stakeholders had interpreted this provision as creating a blanket or automatic exemption for providers, many of whom were stymied by the delayed release of CMS' rule softening the reporting requirements for the 2015 reporting period from 365 days to 90 days. However, CMS has not created a broad blanket exemption, nor has it added a new hardship category for this particular situation; instead, it will allow providers to band together and apply on one application.
"[W]e have heard from stakeholders that they would like a more efficient approach for submitting applications from groups of providers. Following Congress' efforts in PAMPA, we have reviewed our administrative authorities and determined that groups of providers may apply for a hardship exception on a single application. Under the group application, multiple providers and provider types may apply together using a single submission. The hardship exception categories are the same as those applicable for the individual provider application," CMS says in its announcement.
The streamlined application form reiterates that the categories of hardships for which a provider may apply remain at:
- Insufficient Internet connectivity
- Extreme and uncontrollable circumstances, such as a disaster, closure of one's office or facility, severe financial distress, or EHR/certification vendor issues
- lack of control over certified EHR technology availability (for EPs only)
- Lack of face to face patient interaction (for EPs) only
CMS also reminds providers that the deadline for using the streamlined form for EPs is March 15, and April 1, for EHs.
Providers granted an exemption for the 2015 reporting year will not incur a payment penalty in 2017.