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Pitch for shorter meaningful use reporting period thwarted

CHIME was hoping to insert its Flex-IT meaningful use slowdown bill into a congressional budget bill, but the measure failed to make it in.

The year will end without health IT groups led by the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) getting their wish: that CMS relax the 365-day meaningful use reporting period in 2015 and reduce the attestation time frame to 90 days, as it has been in 2014.

Citing new CMS attestation statistics showing only 1,681 of about 5,000 U.S. hospitals attested to meaningful use stage 2 in 2014 as of Dec. 1 -- with 3,952 more required to be at stage 2 in 2015 -- CHIME has issued stronger and stronger calls for the federal government to back down.

In September, CHIME and a coalition of leading health IT groups, including the American Medical Association, wrote the so-called Flex-IT bill that would relax the reporting period. The coalition got several House lawmakers to file the bill. The measure later attracted more than 20 Congress members as co-sponsors, most of them Republicans.

CHIME's hope was to have had Flex-IT inserted in the $1 trillion year-end budget bill that will keep the government running for the next nine months.

But the 16-line Flex-IT bill never made it into the spending package, leaving CHIME officials to hope that CMS pulls back on its own, or that Flex-IT makes it into another legislative vehicle when Congress reconvenes in the new year. At that point, new Republican majorities in the House and Senate may be more receptive to health IT industry forces.

"We're disappointed," Charles Christian, vice president and CIO at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga., and incoming chairman of the CHIME board, told SearchHealthIT. "If you look at the numbers coming out of HHS, they tell us that stage 2 is hard."

But CMS officials have told CHIME that adjusting the 2015 meaningful use reporting period would disrupt quality measure reporting and jeopardize progress on interoperability, said Jeff Smith, CHIME's director of public policy.

In an interview, Smith said CHIME and the CIOs it represents now are hoping to reintroduce Flex-IT early next year.

Realistically, however, the chances of doing so before March, when the sustainable growth rate (SGR) policy bill usually comes to the House floor, are slim. The SGR measure, known as the Medicare "patch," often sees other health related bills tacked onto it, and could be a vehicle for Flex-IT, Smith said.

By then, though, it will be halfway through most hospitals' fiscal year and almost too late to get relief from what many CIOs and physicians feel are onerous meaningful use reporting requirements because they will still be stuck with attesting over a full year instead of three months, Smith said.

Further, Smith said he believes the future of meaningful use itself could be at risk, because many hospitals and doctors could give up trying to meet attestation measures, even as ONC works on new measures and regulations for stage 3 for 2016.

"The reality is we need something now. I do think meaningful use is in a very precarious position," Smith said. "There's a growing disdain for it. Just look at the data."

A CMS official declined comment.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shaun Sutner, news and features writer, or contact @SSutner on Twitter.

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