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AMA News Room

Jan. 13, 2015

Healthcare Leaders Praise Legislators for Reintroducing Flex-IT Act

For immediate release:
Jan. 13, 2015

Strong, bipartisan support for increasing meaningful use flexibility

WASHINGTON, DC – January 12, 2015 – Healthcare leaders praised the reintroduction of the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-IT) Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill granting the nation's healthcare providers additional flexibility in meeting Meaningful Use (MU) requirements through a shortened reporting period in 2015.  Swift action by Congress is needed to help providers already in the 2015 reporting year for Meaningful Use, several healthcare organizations said today.

Officials from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Hospital Association (AHA), American Medical Association (AMA), College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) applaud the leadership shown by bill sponsor Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC-02) and a bipartisan list of original cosponsors, including Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07), Ron Kind (D-WI-03), Glenn Thompson (R-PA-05) and David Scott (D-GA-13).

"We commend the leadership demonstrated by a bipartisan group of House Members on this critically important issue," said CHIME President and CEO Russell P. Branzell, FCHIME, CHCIO. "With such across-the-isle support, Congress has underscored how fundamental this program is to the future of healthcare in the U.S.

"While CHIME remains committed to the success of Meaningful Use, and to making sure improved patient care is the program's lasting legacy, we believe significant changes are needed to address increased dissatisfaction with EHRs and growing disenchantment with the program," Branzell added. "This bill, if passed, would begin that much-needed course correction."

The Flex-IT Act was introduced in September 2014, following a national joint call to action last year.  The new Flex-IT Act of 2015 would adjust the Meaningful Use reporting timeline, giving providers the option to choose any three-month quarter for EHR reporting in 2015.

"America's hospitals are strongly committed to the adoption of EHRs, because of their potential to increase the quality of care and reduce costs for patients," said Rick Pollack, Executive Vice President, American Hospital Association. "The health care field is faced with many major challenges and changes, all hitting at the same time. We need to be practical and responsible in terms of implementation timetables. That's why hospitals need flexibility.  This legislation is a positive first step toward ensuring the program is a success, and America's hospitals look forward to working to achieve its passage."

"Our nation needs a more efficient, cost-effective and patient-centered healthcare system.  HIMSS applauds the efforts taken by these Congressional leaders and fully supports the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting (Flex-IT) Act of 2015 as essential to giving providers and hospitals a realistic chance to meet the 2015 Meaningful Use requirements," said Carla Smith, MA, CNM, FHIMSS, Executive Vice President, HIMSS North America.

According to the latest data available from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS), more than one-third of hospitals expected to demonstrate Stage 2 Meaningful Use in 2014 had to file for a hardship exception or meet Stage 1 requirements again.  In 2015, CMS data indicate more than 3,900 hospitals and 260,000 physicians will have to meet Stage 2 requirements.  However, CHIME estimates that more than half of these EHs will likely seek further hardship exceptions or face penalties in 2015.  And with CMS estimating that more than 257,000 EPs will receive penalties in 2015, the likelihood of robust physician participation is doubtful.

"We greatly appreciate the willingness of this bipartisan group of legislators to address this critical issue," stated Anders Gilberg, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, for the Medical Group Management Association. "Stage 2 of Meaningful Use has proven extremely challenging and, absent this reporting flexibility, a significant number of physicians will be unable to participate in the program and unfairly penalized.  Passage of the Flex-IT Act is a critical step to allow physician practices to continue down the pathway of effective adoption and use of EHR technology," added Gilberg. 

"We are pleased with renewed efforts to provide greater flexibility in the Meaningful Use program and hope that this is the first of several steps to make the program work better for physicians and other providers so that the full potential of these technologies to improve care and value can be realized," said American Medical Association President-Elect Steven J. Stack, MD.

In October 2014, the AMA unveiled their Meaningful Use blueprint, outlining several recommendations meant to improve participation in the EHR Incentive program.  Among the high-level recommendations, AMA officials urged that policymakers adopt a more flexible approach for meeting Meaningful Use to allow more physicians to successfully participate; better aligning quality measure requirements including reducing the reporting burden on physicians and helping relieve them from overlapping penalties; and restructure EHR certification to focus on key areas like interoperability.

"As some of the earliest adopters of certified electronic health records technology, family physicians have demonstrated their belief that interoperable EHR — like primary care itself — is an essential component of a higher-quality, lower-cost health system," said Robert Wergin, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "However, as family medicine continues to do its part in building the EHR infrastructure — a massive undertaking — CMS should not set benchmarks so high that it discourages participation in the program.  We applaud Reps. Ellmers and Kind for introducing the Flexibility in Health IT Reporting Act, which will allow eligible physicians to achieve Meaningful Use of EHR by reporting for a three-month period in 2015.  The American Academy of Family Physicians believes this flexibility will help physicians stay on track in building an EHR system that works." 

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