CMS: 44,000 providers applied for Meaningful Use hardship exemptions

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services received approximately 44,000 hardship exemption requests from providers who indicated that they would have problems attesting to Meaningful Use in 2015, the agency revealed this week.

The news, first reported by Politico, comes in the wake of intense scrutiny for CMS for not providing better aid to providers struggling with Meaningful Use. A final flexibility rule published by the agency this month that allows eligible providers to use 2011 edition certified electronic health record technology--or a combination of 2011 and 2014 CEHRT to meet Meaningful Use for an EHR reporting period in 2014 for the Medicare and Medicaid programs--is seen as being "too little, too late" by many providers.

A CMS spokeswoman confirmed the exemption numbers to FierceHealthIT via email.

"This is the first time we're announcing this number as we have been working through the applications and notifying each individual provider of their status," the spokeswoman said. She added that the "vast majority" are "first timers in 2014 experiencing issues with their CEHRT," but could not elaborate on how many providers fell into that category or how long it will take CMS to sift through all of the applications and issue responses.

The exemption program was first announced by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference in February. In March, CMS updated language on the hardship exemptions, specifying that both eligible hospitals and eligible professionals could apply in the event of "2014 EHR vendor issues."

Some physicians may be hit with the Meaningful Use penalty next year, even if they meet the program's requirements and can attest on time, due to a CMS computer problem that won't allow doctors to prove compliance by the Oct. 1 deadline. Physicians new to the Meaningful Use program and attesting for the first time need to submit their evidence for this year by Oct. 1. However, a CMS system update is barring them from doing so until mid-October. As a result, they will incur a penalty of their Medicare reimbursement in 2015--through no fault of their own.

No figures were provided by CMS on how many applicants will have their hardship exemption requests granted.

To learn more:
- here's the Politico brief