Legislation aimed at easing Meaningful Use regulations advances in the House

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A bill that would ease requirements under the Meaningful Use program passed a House subcommittee, but its future is unclear.

A bill that would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ease Meaningful Use standards in the years to come made its way out of a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

H.R. 3120 (PDF), introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, in July, amends the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act to prevent Meaningful Use standards from becoming “more stringent over time,” according to a background memo (PDF) submitted to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health.

The memo added that as Meaningful Use standards become increasingly complex, more providers will seek a hardship exemption from HHS, creating an additional burden for the agency. The bill would allow HHS to “be more deliberative” in its approach to EHR requirements moving forward.

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“While the meaningful use program has been very successful in driving adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), many providers have struggled to meet the requirements of meaningful use,” the memo states. “As the Secretary is mandated to continue to raise the standards over time, more and more providers are likely to fall behind.”

The legislation, which easily passed through the subcommittee, moves to the full Energy and Commerce Committee. But it’s unclear how far it will go as Congress grapples with larger issues.

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has provided some regulatory relief for hospitals and physicians by allowing providers to use 2014 Edition Certified EHRs and scaling down Meaningful Use reporting in 2018. But some, including the American Hospital Association, are pushing for Congress to eliminate the next stage of Meaningful Use altogether.  

While HITECH has been the primary driver behind widespread EHR adoption, there is an emerging debate over what the federal government’s role should be in advancing interoperability and usability moving forward. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT views these two issues as central the agency’s purpose, but officials are still working out what role they will play in that effort.