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Final rule on meaningful use criteria days away

HHS has sent the final rule for federal meaningful use criteria to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The rule should be published in the next few days.

The final rule for federal meaningful use criteria has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review. This means that the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) could publish the rule, or at the very least, announce it later this week, Kevin Heubusch of the American Health Information Management Association has reported.

The long-awaited meaningful use criteria will spell out to what extent hospitals and eligible providers must adopt electronic health record (EHR) technology to qualify for the federal incentives spelled out in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

The final rule will update the Dec. 30, 2009, release of a notice of proposed rulemaking that spelled out about two dozen proposed meaningful use criteria, all of which hospitals and providers would have to meet by the end of 2011 to receive the maximum reimbursement under the HITECH Act.

These criteria -- which range from electronically recording patient vital signs and demographic information to using electronic prescription and computerized physician order entry systems -- represent Stage 1 of meaningful use. Additional criteria for Stage 2, which must be achieved by Dec. 31, 2013, and Stage 3, which must be reached by Dec. 31, 2015, will be spelled out starting in late 2011.

One thing that is known about the final meaningful use rule is that it will cover more providers than the proposed rule does.

During the comment period that followed the proposed rule's release, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) received more than 2,000 comments. Many, including more than 200 members of the U.S. Congress, said the Stage 1 requirements were too ambitious, and called for relaxed rules or partial credit that would let providers qualify for reimbursement after meeting just several of the criteria. Even some federal officials suggested a more flexible approach to meaningful use. On the other hand, consumer advocates generally supported the meaningful use rules and did not want CMS to weaken them.

One thing that is known about the final meaningful use rule is that it will cover more providers than the proposed rule does. The HITECH Act had excluded health care providers who work in hospital environments, on the presumption that they benefited from the use of the hospital's EHR technology; but legislation passed in April allowed meaningful use eligibility for hospital-based physicians. In addition, H.R. 5025, a bill proposed in April and now before the House Ways and Means Committee, would extend meaningful use to behavioral, mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Brian Eastwood, Site Editor.

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