Lawmakers urge CMS to extend MU hardship exception for pathologists

Eighty-nine members of Congress have asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to give pathologists a break and extend the hardship exemption they currently enjoy for all of Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program.

In the letter--dated July 10 and addressed to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner--the lawmakers point out that CMS had recognized in its 2012 final rule implementing Stage 2 of the program that it was difficult for pathologists to meet the Meaningful Use requirements and granted a one year exception for 2015, the first year that penalties will be imposed. They now are asking that the exception be expanded to include the full five-year maximum allowed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"Pathologists have limited direct contact with patients and do not operate in EHRs," the letter states. "Instead, pathologists use sophisticated computerized laboratory information systems (LISs) to support the work of analyzing patient specimens and generating test results. These LISs exchange laboratory and pathology data with EHRs."

Interestingly, the lawmakers' exemption request is only on behalf of pathologists, even though CMS had granted the one-year hardship exception to pathologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), one of the members spearheading the letter, had also introduced a bill (H.R. 1309) in March 2013 that would exclude pathologists from the incentives and penalties of the Meaningful Use program. The bill, which has 31 cosponsors, is currently sitting in committee. That bill also does not include relief for radiologists or anesthesiologists.

CMS has provided some flexibility about the hardship exceptions in the past, most recently by allowing providers to apply for one due to EHR vendor delays in upgrading to Stage 2 of the program.

However, CMS also noted in the 2012 rule granting the one-year exception that it was granting the exception in large part because of the then-current lack of health information exchange and that "physicians in these three specialties should not expect that this exception will continue indefinitely, nor should they expect that we will grant the exception for the full 5-year period permitted by statute."

To learn more:
- read the letter (.pdf)

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