Congress passes bill providing 'flexibility' for obtaining MU hardship exception for 2015

House and Senate lawmakers have passed a bill that makes it easier for eligible professionals (EPs) and eligible hospitals (EHs) to obtain a Meaningful Use hardship exception for the 2015 reporting year and avoid a 3 percent Medicare payment adjustment in 2017.

The provision is part of the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act, S. 2425, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio, pictured), which among other things also establishes Medicare Administrative Contractor error reduction incentives. The bill provides "flexibility" in applying for a hardship exception by enabling whole categories of EPs and EHs to apply for one.

"This bill includes provisions that allow individuals who rely on complex rehabilitative equipment to maintain access to these products, ensures that cancer patients have the option to receive care in their preferred setting, and increases the ability of physicians and hospitals to apply for hardship exemptions from the electronic health record meaningful use requirements," Portman said in a statement.

The exemption is not automatic, as had been contemplated in Rep. Tom Price's bill regarding hardship exceptions; EPs will need to apply for the exemption by March 15, 2016; EHs have until April 1, 2016.

While providers could previously apply for hardship exceptions, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has to review each one on a case-by-case basis. There had been concern that since the rule changing the reporting requirements for 2015 from one year to 90 days was only issued in October 2015, many providers would not have sufficient time to meet the reporting requirements for 2015 and CMS would be unable to process all of the anticipated hardship exception applications in a timely manner. Providers still can apply for hardship exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Many provider groups had asked CMS to consider expanding the hardship exemption. Lawmakers had recommended that Congress step in and make the change legislatively if CMS would not do so administratively.

The bill, which does not address Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program, now goes to President Barack Obama for signature.

To learn more:
- Here's the bill
- read Portman's announcement