CMS' Andy Slavitt hints at MU's finale: 6 things to know

CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt delivered the news Tuesday that many in health IT have waited for: The end of the meaningful use program is near.

"The meaningful use program as it has existed will now be effectively over and replaced with something better," Mr. Slavitt said at the end of the federal EHR incentive program in his Jan. 11 address at the J.P. Morgan Annual Health Care Conference, running from Jan. 11-15 in San Francisco. Here are six things to know about his comments and next steps.

1. The government is seeking to simplify, according to Mr. Slavitt, which he acknowledged was not the case with the original iterations of meaningful use. "As any physician will tell you, physician burden and frustration levels are real. Programs designed to improve often distract. Done poorly, measures are divorced from how physicians practice and add to the cynicism that people who build these programs just don't get it," he said.

2. To simplify, Mr. Slavitt said the government plans to align and streamline existing programs to develop a new model that offers flexibility and is adaptable to providers' practices and populations.

Mr. Slavitt's comments suggest CMS' new approach will put physicians back in the center of the program and of patient care, saying the agency has worked closely with physician organizations to be more in tune with their needs. He also specifically mentioned the American Medical Association as a working partner, which has been vocal about its opposition to the meaningful use program.

Steven Stack, MD, president of the AMA said the organization applauds and Mr. Slavitt for ending the meaningful use program and working with physicians. "His leadership is a model for how Washington should work," Dr. Stack said in a statement. "He listened to working physicians who said the meaningful use program made them choose between following Byzantine technological requirements and spending more time with their patients. This is a win for patients, physicians and common sense."

3. The new program will largely center on the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. MACRA links payment to value through the Merit-Based Incentive Program and measures physicians on four categories: quality, cost, technology use and practice improvement.

"Now that we effectively have technology [in] virtually every place care is provided, we are now in the process of ending meaningful use and moving to a new regime culminating with the MACRA implementation," Mr. Slavitt said.

4. While details of a new program are still in the works, Mr. Slavitt outlined four key themes of the new program.

  • The focus will no longer be on rewarding providers for using technology. Instead, it will reward them for positive outcomes achieved with their patients.
  • To move away from a program centered on government regulations, providers will be able to customize their goals, and tech companies can develop products based on individual practice needs. "Technology must be user-centered and support physicians, not distract them," Mr. Slavitt said.
  • The new program seeks to lower the barriers to entry for startups and new players in the field by requiring open application programming interfaces. This will permit apps, analytic tools and connected technologies move data as necessary.
  • Interoperability remains a key factor. Mr. Slavitt mentioned sharing and using technology to close referral loops and boost patient engagement. "And technology companies that look for ways to practice 'data blocking' in opposition to new regulations will find that it won't be tolerated," he said.

5. Mr. Slavitt also mentioned the end of meaningful use and outlined the new goals for health technology on Twitter.

6. Mr. Slavitt's delivered his remarks right around the same time CMS released data on eligible providers who face payment adjustments in 2016 for failing to demonstrate meaningful use in 2014. According to CMS, 209,000 eligible professionals will see a 2 percent payment adjustment this year.

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