Baucus, Harkin welcome new ‘meaningful use’ rule

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) newly finalized “meaningful use” rule has won the approval of the Senate’s top healthcare Democrats.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who heads the Senate health panel, said Tuesday the new guidelines will go a long way toward improving care, cutting costs and reducing medical errors.

“Doctors should spend their time focusing on patients — not paperwork,” Baucus said in a statement. “Health information technology is a critical tool for increasing efficiency, cutting costs and providing high-quality patient care.” 

Added Harkin: “It draws on the best advancements across the full spectrum to improve Americans’ health, increase safety and reduce health care costs — all of which are critical steps to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.”

The final rule outlines the specific criteria for doctors and hospitals hoping to tap federal incentives designed to encourage the adoption of cutting-edge medical technologies, including e-prescribing and electronic health records. The so-called "meaningful use" provision was included to safeguard against providers purchasing the technology, but not using it to improve patient health. 

CMS’ final guidelines are much less stringent than those proposed by the agency in December. Still, providers who don’t adopt the technologies according to the meaningful use standards will pay a price: Beginning in 2016, providers not in compliance will see Medicare reimbursements decrease by 1 percent each year through 2020. 

Early reaction from the stakeholder industries has so far been mixed. The Federation of American Hospitals, for instance, is applauding the new rule, while the American Hospital Association is warning that rural facilities might have trouble meeting the new standards. 

The American Medical Association, meanwhile, says it’s still digesting the new rule, which runs for more than 800 pages.