Republican Senators Ask HHS to Extend Meaningful Use Stage 2 Deadline

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Seventeen senators have written to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to ask her to delay penalties on providers who will not be ready to meet Stage 2 requirements of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) incentive program by next year.

In the letter, the senators echo the concern of other health IT stakeholders about the 2014 deadline for Stage 2. For example, earlier this year, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) noted in a letter to Sebelius that only a fraction of the EHR system vendors that had sold products certified for Stage 1 of the Meaningful Use program had become certified for Stage 2. This left very little time to get the needed certification, push the software updates out to all customers and then train those customers on the new system. Furthermore, asking providers who had EHR systems not yet certified for Stage 2 to simply switch systems would be unrealistic given the expense and training time required to transition to a new EHR system.

“We are not suggesting a delay of Stage 2 and the progress we have seen to date,” wrote the Senators. “Providers who are ready to transition to Stage 2 should do so and should receive incentive payments in 2014 and 2015 consistent with current policy. However, providers that are not yet ready to transition to Stage 2 should have a one-year extension before they must demonstrate Stage 2 meaningful use, consequently mitigating the threat of penalties while still abiding by the statutory deadlines.”

The Senators were led by John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. A few had signed onto an earlier call for a “reboot” of the Meaningful Use program, which centered on the failure of the program so far to achieve interoperability between various EHR platforms, but others were writing to Sebelius about Meaningful Use for the first time.

The other Senators on the letter were: John Barrasso (R-Wyo), Richard Burr (R-NC), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), Dan Coats (R-Ind), Tom Coburn (R-Okla), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga), Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Jerry Moran (R-Kan), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan), Pat Toomey (R-Penn), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss). No Democrats signed onto the letter.

According to Senator Thune’s office, their request is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the National Rural Health Association, and CHIME. They asked Sebelius to respond by October 8, 2013.