Lawmakers look to exempt Medicare labs from e-health records

House lawmakers are pressing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to remove penalties on Medicare diagnostic labs that don’t use electronic medical records.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) requires Medicare providers to upgrade to Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems or receive less in reimbursements.

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The College of American Pathologists (CAP), though, says the requirement puts too much of a financial burden on labs that do clinical tests for Medicare patients, and is seeking an exemption from the rule.

Eighty-nine House lawmakers agreed in a letter to CMS sent Thursday. Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who spearheaded the effort, said pathologists rarely interact with patients' electronic health records and requiring diagnostic labs to update their systems is not worth the additional costs.

“Pathologists have limited direct contact with patients and do not operate in EHRs,” wrote the lawmakers. “Instead, pathologists use sophisticated computerized laboratory information systems (LISs) to support the work of analyzing patient specimens and generating test results.

CAP says CMS has already recognized the requirement is too burdensome and has granted pathologists a waiver next year. However, the organization and lawmakers are worried what will happen in following years and want the exemption to be permanent.

“The Medicare agency has not indicated if it will extend the hardship exception to pathologists in subsequent years,” said CAP in a statement. “Further, the CMS has stated that pathologists and other physicians should not expect relief from future penalties.”

House lawmakers are asking CMS to waive the requirement for pathologists at least until 2020.

Price and Kind have also proposed legislation, the Health Information Technology Reform Act (HR 1309), which would prevent Medicare pathologists from being penalized if they fail to update their electronic records.