Senate Committee Chair Calls for Delay of Meaningful Use Stage 3

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Wednesday, committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called for federal regulators to immediately implement proposed modifications to the meaningful use program for 2015 through 2017 and to delay the start date for Stage 3 of the program, Modern Healthcare reports (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 9/16).

Background

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.

The final rules for meaningful use Stage 3 and program modifications for 2015 through 2017 have been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review (iHealthBeat, 9/8).

Lamar's Comments

During the Senate HELP committee hearing on patient access to health data, Alexander said that modifications to meaningful use for 2015 through 2017 "should be adopted immediately because it will help most doctors and hospitals comply with the government's requirements." He noted that about 250,000 eligible professionals and about 200 eligible hospitals will face Medicare reimbursement penalties if the current rules are not revised (Modern Healthcare, 9/16).

In addition, Lamar said that final rules for Stage 3 of the program should be delayed until Jan. 1, 2017, and then implemented using a phased-in approach. He said that health care providers "need time [to] do it right," adding, "[I]t does not help patients to make these massive changes fast and wrong" (Slabodkin, Health Data Management, 9/16).

Other Comments During Hearing

During the hearing, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said they would like to achieve a more interoperable, patient-centered health care system.

Warren noted that while "[m]ost medical records are digital ... [the] systems don't talk to each other well." She added that the lack of interoperability results in other costs, such as unnecessary medical tests.

The senators also heard testimony from three witnesses.

Raj Ratwani -- the scientific director at MedStar Health's National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare and an assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine -- told lawmakers during the hearing that the usability of EHRs "remains subpar and is a significant challenge that we must overcome immediately." He added, "To make advancements, we must refocus certification requirements to promote true usability in the design, development and implementation of health IT" (Leventhal, Healthcare Informatics, 9/16).

Kathy Giusti -- founder and executive chair of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation -- highlighted the importance of data integration in achieving an interoperable health care system. She noted, "The greatest efficiency will come from our ability to integrate EHRs across the vast number of specialized doctors and centers that patients now see" (Modern Healthcare, 9/16).

Meanwhile, Eric Dishman -- a health IT leader at Intel, member of President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative Working Group and a cancer survivor -- told lawmakers that health care providers need to do more to give patients access to tools that will help them view their data. Dishman also disagreed with Alexander's calls to delay Stage 3 of the meaningful use program, saying the health care industry needs to "keep driving towards that innovation model" (Healthcare Informatics, 9/16).

Reaction

In a statement, Health IT Now Executive Director Joel White said his organization looks "forward to working with the committee on enacting legislative changes to ensure patients have access to their health information when and where they need it, in the form requested, in order to better their health at lower costs" (Health IT Now release, 9/16).

According to Politico's "Morning eHealth," White also raised concerns that delaying meaningful use Stage 3 could impede other policy goals, such as achieving nationwide interoperability by 2018 (Tahir et al., "Morning eHealth," Politico, 9/17).

Meanwhile, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives in a statement praised Alexander for urging the "Obama administration to take a more reasoned approach to the next phases of the meaningful use program." CHIME noted that patients will benefit the most when "as many providers as possible are successfully participating" in the program (CHIME release, 9/16).

American Medical Association President Steven Stack in a release said the group "strongly agrees" with Alexander that "the meaningful use program should be paused given the urgent need to improve the usability and interoperability of electronic health record systems."

According to Modern Healthcare, Alexander's proposal also was welcomed by Robert Tennant, director of health IT policy at the Medical Group Management Association (Modern Healthcare, 9/16).

Source: iHealthBeat, Thursday, September 17, 2015

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