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CMS rule rewrites meaningful use hardship exception deadlines

Eligible professionals and hospitals already know they have more time to apply for meaningful use exceptions this year. An interim final rule that’s packaged in the CMS 2015 Physician Fee Schedule 2015 Final Rule would make permanent alterations to the hardship exception process, notably finalizing the decision to extend this year’s hardship exception deadline. The hardship exception interim final rule is open to a public comment period until Dec. 30, 2014.

The rule — set to be published on Nov. 12 in the Federal Register — “makes the necessary changes to the regulation to support the extension of the hardship application period,” according to an email announcement from CMS. The statement also clarifies the circumstances under which providers should file a hardship claim. They must have been unable to install their 2014 Edition CEHRT [certified EHR technology] because of vendor delays and prove they were unable to “attest by the early attestation deadline for new participants.”

In October, CMS announced an extension to the meaningful use hardship exception cutoff date. The last day to submit a hardship exception application is now Nov. 30. The previous deadlines for hardship exceptions were April 1 of this year for eligible hospitals and July 1 for eligible professionals. That delay offered a second break — on top of the 2014 CEHRT Flexibility final rule released in September — for eligible professionals and hospitals that were unable to make their use of CEHRT comply with meaningful use regulations before the original deadlines.

Physicians and other providers that haven’t attested to meaningful use and are approved for hardship exceptions won’t be subject to financial penalties for not qualifying on time. Otherwise, eligible professionals who failed to attest to meaningful use for a 90-day reporting period in 2013 will face penalties in 2015. In the subsequent years, 2014 and beyond, providers must participate in a yearlong reporting period to avoid penalties down the road, unless the Flex-IT bill before Congress alters CMS’s timelines through law.

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