November has officially arrived, and soon the end of 2014 will be here at the blink of an eye! How time flies! It was back in 2009 when the Meaningful Use Program was introduced as part of the HITECH Act to promote the use of electronic health records (EHRs). It was announced that those who participated early and meet the Meaningful Use criteria would be rewarded with incentives, and those who do not participate by 2015 will be penalized. And now that 2015 is quickly approaching, are you an EHR meaningful user? If the answer is no, you will need to take advantage of the hardship exemption deadline extention to avoid penalties!
How Hardship Exemptions Can Still Help You Meet Meaningful Use Criteria
I have both good news and bad news for doctors who have not participated in the program.
Bad news: October 1, was the deadline to attest for the program and receive incentives. If you manage to attest by the end of this year, you will still be eligible to receive incentives, but you will also be hit by penalties. Penalties start at 1% reduction of your annual Medicare reimbursements, and compounds every year up to a maximum of 5%.
Good news: There’s still a chance to avoid penalties. Even if you have not participated, there is a chance to avoid penalties. The CMS has recently extended their hardship exemption deadline and you can still apply for an exemption till November 30! You will need to complete an application and it does not guarantee and exemption. You must have a valid reason for the application.
The CMS divides “valid reasons” into 4 categories: Lack of infrastructure, unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances, lack of control over the availability of certified EHR technology, and lack of face-to-face interaction. See if you qualify for an exemption.
- Lack of infrastructure
“Infrastructure” mostly refers to internet accessibility in this case. I you practice in an area with insufficient internet access to comply to meaningful use objectives that require internet connectivity, you can file for an exemption with this reason.
- Unforeseen and/or uncontrollable circumstances
You may apply for this if you’ve faced uncontrollable circumstances within 2013 and 2014. These circumstances include disasters, practice closure, bankruptcy or debt re-structuring and EHR vendor issues, including loss of EHR vendor certification, closure of EHR vendor and 2014 EHR vendor certification issues and delays.
- Lack of control over the availability of certified EHR technology
When 2014 hit, EHR vendors were required to undergo recertification of their software to make sure that users are able to attest to Stage 2 Meaningful Use objectives and measures. Many vendors struggled to get certification at the beginning of the year, so if your vendor was unable to provide you with a 2014 system, you may file for an exemption.
- Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
This one may not apply to most eyecare practices. Doctors must demonstrate either a complete lack of face-to-face interactions and follow-up or that the cases of face-to-face interaction and follow-up are extremely rare and not part of the EP's normal scope of practice to meet this exemption criteria.
If your practice is eligible for an exemption and you have not participated in Meaningful Use, this is possibly your last chance to avoid penalties. The CMS has already extended the deadline to file for an exemption, and we don’t think that there would be another extension seeing as to how late we are in the year. November 30th is your deadline. Don’t miss your shot this time!
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