House passes bill exempting ASC-affiliated docs from MU program

The U.S. House has passed The Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015, which tweaks the definition of what constitutes meaningful use for ambulatory surgery centers (ASC).

The new definition means a patient encounter at an ASC would not be treated as such when determining whether an eligible professional qualifies as a meaningful electronic health record user.

The act is part of H.R. 2570, the Strengthening Medicare Advantage through Innovation and Transparency for Seniors Act, which was passed by voice vote on June 17. The larger bill creates a demonstration for Medicare Advantage plans that allows the use of Value Based Insurance Design (VBID) to reduce the co-payments or co-insurance for beneficiaries with specific chronic conditions.

The ASC part of the bill had originally been introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and several bipartisan co-sponsors, and addresses the fact that currently there are no certified EHR products for ASCs. ASCs are also not part of the Meaningful Use program. That puts physicians who work in an ASC at a disadvantage when attempting to meet Meaningful Use, because to be a meaningful EHR user, the eligible provider must have 50 percent or more of outpatient encounters at locations with a certified EHR.   

The exemption would sunset "as of the first payment year that begins more than 3 years after the date the secretary determines, through notice and comment rulemaking, that certified EHR technology is applicable to the ambulatory surgical center setting," according to the bill.

Black and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), in a statement praising passage of the bill, noted that the provision protects physicians from the "odd structure of the current [Meaningful Use] program." The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Congress continues to modify which providers should be part of the Meaningful Use program. Earlier this month, several lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow behavioral health providers to participate in the program. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), enacted in May, moves physicians out of the Meaningful Use program and into a new merit-based incentive payment system.

To learn more:
- read the statement
- here's the bill