HHS releases updated Meaningful Use rules

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued the long-awaited final rules changing the requirements of the Meaningful Use program for 2015-2017 and implementing Stage 3 of the program.

The rules "[s]hift the paradigm so health IT becomes a tool for care improvement, not an end in itself," according to an HHS' announcement. The rule eases the reporting burdens, simplifies requirements, adds flexibility, supports interoperability and improves outcomes. It also transitions to a new and more responsive regulatory framework based on the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which essentially moves physicians out of the Meaningful Use program into a new merit based incentive payment system (MIPS).   

Some of the changes include:

  • Providers and state Medicaid agencies will now have until Jan. 1, 2018, to comply and prepare for the next set of system improvements
  • Stage 3 will now be optional in 2017
  • Stage 3 will have eight objectives; more than 60 percent require interoperability; public health reporting with have flexibility options
  • APIs will be required
  • Cybersecurity requirements have been strengthened
  • The reporting period for 2015 will be only 90 days for all providers, for new providers in 2016 and 2017 and for any provider moving to Stage 3 of the program in 2017

HHS had received more than 2,500 comments on the proposed rules.

As part of the regulations, there also will be a 60-day public comment period to gather additional feedback about the direction of the Meaningful Use program going forward in light of MACRA. The rule implementing that law is expected in spring 2016.  

The 2015 edition of certification criteria and the final interoperability roadmap were also released today.

Addressing concerns that the rule is coming out too late for providers to report in 2015, Patrick Conway M.D., acting principal deputy administrator and chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, pointed out that the deadlines could be extended and that providers can apply for hardship exemptions.

The rules also do not delay Stage 3, although many stakeholders have been asking that Stage 3 be "paused" and reevaluated. Conway indicated in a media call that the 60-day comment period will "get us to a similar place." He also pointed out that HHS had to combine the alteration and Stage 3 rules; using a comment period is just a different mechanism to do so.

Many concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the usefulness of the Meaningful Use program and whether it has been successful. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has found that while it spurred EHR adoption overall, it fell short of its overall goals.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- read the fact sheet