17 Senators Join Growing Call for Meaningful Use Stage 2 Extension

On Tuesday, 17 senators called on HHS to extend meaningful use stage 2 by one year for those providers needing the extra time to attest.

Meaningful use stage 2 is currently set to begin in 2014, requiring providers to prove achievement of the criteria for a 90-day period during 2014 to avoid financial penalties in 2016. In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the senators explain the current timeline puts a significant time pressure on both providers and vendors to upgrade systems accordingly and may not be in the best interest of the meaningful use program as a whole.

The letter also contends the current timeframe is poised to increase the digital divide, leaving smaller and rural hospitals even further behind. The lack of resources among these providers will make acquiring, implementing and training on the new software even more of a challenge.

The senators believe rushing through meaningful use stage 2 may inadvertently but seriously stifle innovation in the health IT field if health IT vendors do not have the time to explore new ideas. The letter also suggests medical errors may increase from hospital staff using a new system with which they are unfamiliar and may not have had sufficient training.

The letter echoes calls for an extension or delay of the meaningful use timeline from the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society, the American Hospital Association, the Medical Group Management Association, the American College of Physicians and several hospital CIOs.

In May, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives pressed for a one-year extension and has repeated their call following the release of the senators' letter. "We commend the 17 senators who have come out in support of doing what we think is right," says Russell Branzell FCHIME, CHCIO, president and CEO of CHIME. "No one's asking for anything unreasonable — just flexibility to make the program work."

Mr. Branzell does not see any downsides to the extension. "There's a perception that some organizations would use the extension to drag their feet," he says. Having discussed the issue with a majority of CHIME members, he believes hospitals across the country won't dawdle, but accomplish the goals of meaningful use efficiently, rather than hurriedly. Extending stage 2 "will give us an opportunity to do this at the right pace," he says.

Without the extension, he believes some hospitals will choose not to attest to meaningful use stage 2, devoting their efforts instead to preparing for the ICD-10 transition also happening next year. An extension "would allow them to do both things very well," rather than potentially having to choose one or the other, says Mr. Branzell.

Mr. Branzell is hopeful the letter could be the support the extension proposal needs to be considered by HHS. Despite the fact that all the signatories[1] on the letter are Republicans, he hopes this will not be seen as a partisan issue. "CHIME and the other organizations I've talked to, we're all trying to do this for the right reasons," he says.

"Our job is to improve healthcare," he says, and allowing providers time to successfully attest to meaningful use stage 2 is a step in that direction.

More Articles on Meaningful Use:

12 Statistics on Meaningful Use Attestation Among Critical Access Hospitals
HIMSS: 75% of Hospitals Ready for MU2
ONC: EHRs Meeting MU Criteria Viewed More Favorably by Physicians  

The signatories on the letter include: John Thune (R-S.D.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John Isakson (R-Ga.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), James Risch (R-Idaho), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

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