Feds push forward with controversial health rule

Getty Images

The Obama administration is moving ahead with controversial new rules that require doctors to switch to electronic health records or face fees, resisting calls from both parties to delay implementation.

Federal health officials said the final rules released Tuesday will make “significant changes" in the "meaningful use" electronic health records program, such as lowering the number of standards each provider must meet and allowing providers to apply for hardship exemptions.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the administration will not delay what it calls "Stage 3" of the records program, a move that is already angering vocal Republicans like Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Lawsuits pile up against Obama overtime rule The American people are restive, discouraged and sometimes suicidal GOP chairman eyes lame-duck for passing medical cures bill MORE (R-Tenn.), who have repeatedly called for a delay of a year or more.

“The administration has a tin ear,” Alexander, the chairman of the Senate’s health committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “They’ve missed a golden opportunity to develop bipartisan support in Congress... Instead, they’ve rushed ahead with a rule against the advice of some of the nation’s leading medical institutions and physicians.”

The finalized rule does offer a 90-day period for additional comment, which would give some extra time for providers, said Dr. Patrick Conway, chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Conway told reporters Tuesday that it was too late to “separate the various rules” and that adjusting the timeline for one piece of the program would negatively impact the rest.

“It’s entirely likely that we would have penalized thousand of providers,” he said. “We’re getting to the same place with just a different administration method. If additional improvements are needed for stage 3, we can make those next year.”

The changes are intended to make it easier for providers to meet the tougher health IT standards, which were announced in April. Those standards drew fierce opposition from more than 100 lawmakers of both parties, who have urged the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to push back its timeline.  

The government has put out several sets of rules, intended to help physicians and hospitals make the leap in stages.

It’s an attempt to move away from a paper-based system that depends on a doctor’s handwriting and paper copies of files – and one that could become a major part of Obama’s health legacy.

Groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians have said many of its providers’ issues with electronic health records are the result of the technology itself.

“We believe this is the fault of the vendors and their lack of accountability while reaping huge profits from the HITECH act,” the group’s president, Dr. Robert Wergin, wrote in a statement hours before the rules were announced.

“Vendors, not providers, must be held fiscally accountable for not yet achieving an appropriate level of interoperability.”