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Meaningful Use Final Rules Released

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final rule for its program designed to foster the meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR). The rule makes a number of changes to the program, such as allowing providers to apply for hardship exemptions. The final rule does not, however, delay the implementation of Stage 3, the final stage of meaningful use.

Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was angered by the release of the final rule because he previously pushed for a delay to the EHR incentive program until no earlier than January 1, 2017, and was ignored.

Alexander has asserted that Congress will review the rule and consider fixing it through legislation or overturning it through the Congressional Review Act. The administration "missed a golden opportunity to develop bipartisan support in Congress and throughout the country for an electronic health records system that would genuinely help patients," Alexander said. "Instead, they've rushed ahead with a rule against the advice of some of the nation's leading medical institutions and physicians."

Prior to the release of the rule, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) also took action in the House to delay implementation through a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The letter had more than 100 bipartisan congressional cosigners and urged the administration "to refrain from finalizing Meaningful Use Stage 3 at this time and work to refocus the program to better serve patients and the providers who care for them."

Rep. Ellmers had previously introduced H.R. 3309, the Further Flexibility in HIT reporting and Advancing Interoperability Act (Flex IT 2 Act) earlier this year. H.R. 3309 is aimed at reducing the regulatory burden of Meaningful Use on physicians. The bill would delay the implementation of Stage 3 until at least 75 percent of providers achieve Stage 2 or the new Merit Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) goes into effect.

The final rule allows for a 90-day period for additional comment.