CMS to focus on healthcare interoperability in 2013, stay new regs

CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the agency will not release any new regulations this year but will push healthcare interoperability.

NEW ORLEANS -- In an address at HIMSS 2013, Acting Administrator of CMS Marilyn Tavenner said regulators will not issue any new health IT-related regulations or proposals this year. But this does not mean the federal government is backing off plans to encourage implementation of EHRs and other technology throughout the industry.

In her first appearance at a HIMSS event, Tavenner unveiled a new 2013 CMS agenda, including what she called "aggressive" goals for provider adoption. The plan seeks to get 50% of physician offices using EHRs and 80% of hospitals receiving incentive payments by the end of the year.

2013 is going to be busy. We have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it together.

Marilyn Tavenner,
acting administrator, CMS

CMS also intends to continue its push for interoperability. The agency issued a request for input on the various ways it could support industry efforts to make health data more liquid without crafting new regulations. Primarily, CMS wants to hear about ways to make a business case for healthcare interoperability. Some commentators feel there currently are few incentives for EHR vendors to make their systems' data more accessible to other systems.

By easing off the regulatory push and promising a year of no new proposals, Tavenner hopes the industry will be able to focus more attention on successfully implementing all of the stage 2 meaningful use requirements. Healthcare providers and government regulators will have a chance to see which meaningful use measures are successful and which ones could stand to be updated. CMS will convene a summit in May to look at what's working for providers, she said.

"2013 is going to be busy," Tavenner said. "I realize we're giving you a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it together."

As part of the effort to support physicians working toward stage 2, CMS will increase its educational and outreach initiatives, particularly to smaller providers, Tavenner said. She said CMS will take what it hears from providers about their efforts to implement stage 2, and use the information to guide the development of the stage 3 rules.

Providers who think that a year of no new regulations will be easy shouldn't be complacent. There are still a number of changes already on the books that hospitals and physicians will have to deal with. Chief among them is the transition to ICD-10 code sets. Tavenner reaffirmed that CMS has no plans to delay the transition to ICD-10 further, as some groups, including the American Medical Association, have requested. Providers will have to make the transition to the new code set by October 2013.

Tavenner addressed the ongoing EHR upcoding controversy, saying that part of CMS' 2013 agenda will be a focus on "program integrity." The agency will look at launching a small pilot audit program to ensure that providers accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments aren't using the technology to inflate their claims. The audit program isn't intended to be punitive, Tavenner said. She said it would mainly be about understanding how physicians use EHRs. This information could inform future regulations.

Tavenner said she believes health IT plays an important role in many of the healthcare industry's ongoing efforts to improve quality and lower costs. She pointed to the fact that healthcare costs have seen historically low growth rates over the past three years, and she highlighted system-wide improvements in readmissions, bloodstream infections and early elective deliveries.

"None of the progress we've made in these areas would have been possible without health information technology," Tavenner said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.

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