Bipartisan group of House members petitions CMS for relief from EHR penalties for pathologists

July 16, 2014

A group of 89 members of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, signed a letter dated July 10 calling on the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) to prevent future Medicare payment cuts to pathologists from the electronic health record (EHR) Meaningful Use (MU) program. Addressing CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, the members of Congress said, “We write to ask that CMS, in its upcoming Stage 3 Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program proposed rule, grant a significant hardship exception to all eligible pathologists for the full five-year maximum allowed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As you know, ARRA established the EHR Incentive Programs for Medicare and Medicaid to provide payments to eligible hospitals and eligible professionals for implementing EHRs in ways that can positively impact patient care.”

The legislators noted that CMS had already acknowledged (in 2012) that pathologists face “significant barriers” in meeting MU requirements. They made the key point that “the EHR Meaningful Use Program is designed to incentivize the adoption of EHRs,” while “pathologists have limited direct contact with patients and do not operate in EHRs,” but rather use LISs to support their work and exchange data with EHRs. They alluded to pending Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) legislation (The SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014) “which acknowledges that it is extremely difficult for non-patient-facing professionals, such as pathologists, to meet the current requirements” of the MU Program.

Pathology advocates generally have applauded the letter. The College of American Pathology (CAP) issued a press release noting that it has worked with the CMS to exempt pathologists from the MU penalty in 2015, but the agency has not indicated whether it will extend the hardship exception to pathologists in subsequent years, when the penalty stands to lower Medicare part B payments (by 2% in 2016 and 3% in 2017). Further, the CMS has stated that pathologists and other physicians should not expect relief from future penalties. Read the House members’ letter.

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