GOP senators want clarification on MU hardship exceptions

Six Republican senators, frustrated that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services denied their request to extend the deadline for Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program, have sent a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner asking that the hardship exceptions be clarified "immediately."

Tavenner had announced at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla., last week that Stage 2 would proceed as scheduled, but that CMS would be more flexible regarding granting hardship exceptions for those providers having trouble upgrading. The program allows eligible providers to apply for such exceptions, such as "unforeseen circumstances" or trouble with infrastructure.

In the letter, dated March 6, Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Mike Enzi, (Wyo.), Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.) noted that they were "disappointed" that CMS would not be giving providers extra time to upgrade their systems to comply with the Stage 2 requirements. They also bemoaned the lack of clarity regarding how the extensions would work.

"The CMS website currently says hardship exceptions are available only in certain narrow circumstances--such as a lack of broadband internet or an unforeseen natural disaster," the lawmakers wrote. "How will these categories be expanded? Will the applications be due April 1? What documentation or standard of proof must be met to obtain an exception? What is the timing for review, and will there be an appeals process?"

This is hardly first time that lawmakers have expressed concern about the Meaningful Use program, suggesting that it be "rebooted" and questioning whether incentive payments are being monitored and provided only to those providers entitled to them.

To learn more:
- read the announcement