House Bills Seek to Ease Meaningful Use Requirements

Two bills have been introduced in Congress over the past few weeks that seek to ease meaningful use requirements—and penalties—for various types of physicians.

The Electronic Health Records Improvement Act, or H.R. 1331, was introduced by Diane Black, (R.-Tenn.). It calls for several amendments to the original HITECH Act of 2009, which requires physicians and healthcare organizations to submit various datasets to CMS to prove they are using EHRs effectively beginning this year or face financial penalties.

The bill seeks to:

*Grant a three-year exemption from Medicare financial penalties for solo physicians or those nearing retirement age. These physicians must request such an exemption and HHS would have 30 days to grant it, according to the new bill.

*Shorten the gap between a meaningful use reporting period and a financial penalty to one year beginning in 2015.

*Ensure that physicians who are Medicaid meaningful users aren’t assessed Medicare meaningful use penalties.

*Enable physicians to use national specialty registries for the various meaningful use quality reporting requirements.

*Ensure the eligibility of rural healthcare providers for the program, while offering some exemptions for certain subspecialty physicians, including ambulatory surgery and anesthesiology.

*And create a formal appeals process for physicians to use before they receive any related financial penalties, as well as require a semiannual report from CMS that contains information related to recent improvements in EHR interoperability made by vendors, progress of EHR adoption and results of physician surveys that describe any barriers that still exist to achieving EHR adoption and compliance with meaningful use requirements.

The other bill, the Health Information Technology Reform Act, or H.R. 1309, was introduced by Tom Price, (R.-Ga.). It seeks to exempt pathologists from Medicare and Medicaid incentive payment penalties relating to the Meaningful Use requirements. The bill states that such physicians generally don’t practice in office-based groups or use the EHR systems that such practices do, though they do use lab and pathology systems that already can exchange data with such technology.

Both bills are being reviewed in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.