On December 6, 2013, federal officials announced CMS’s proposal of a new timeline for eligible providers to meet the Stage 2 Meaningful Use Rule under the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program, as well as a corresponding delay to the development of the Stage 3 criteria.  Under the revised timeline, Stage 2 will be extended through 2016 and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for eligible providers that have completed at least two years in Stage 2, giving eligible hospitals and eligible professionals an extra year to meet the Meaningful Use criteria.  Stage 2 began on October 1, 2013 for eligible hospitals and will begin January 1, 2014, for eligible professionals.

According to a joint announcement made by Robert Tagalicod – Director of CMS’s Office of E-Health Standards and Services – and Jacob Reider, M.D. – Acting National Coordinator for Health Information Technology – the revised timeline is beneficial for the following reasons, among others:

  • It allows CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to focus efforts on successfully implementing patient engagement, interoperability and health information exchange requirements in Stage 2;
  • It utilizes data from Stage 2 participation to inform policy decisions for Stage 3;
  • It allows for enhanced program analysis of Stage 2 data to inform improvements in care delivery outcomes in Stage 3; and
  • It provides additional time for preparation for enhanced Stage 3 requirements, including adequate time for vendors to develop and distribute EHR technology ahead of Stage 3.

The revised timeline means that eligible providers who have completed at least two years of Stage 2 would begin Stage 3 in 2017.   Eligible professionals would begin in January 2017, at the start of the calendar year, and eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals would begin in October 2016, at the start of the federal fiscal year.

The announcement also indicated that CMS plans to release a proposed rulemaking for Stage 3 in the fall of 2014, with further details for the proposed revised timeline.  The final rule with all requirements for Stage 3 is expected in the first half of 2015.

ONC also proposed a new regulatory approach to the certification process that would allow certification criteria to be updated more frequently.  ONC intends to publish a proposed rule for a 2015 Edition of certification criteria, which would be voluntary in the sense that providers participating in the EHR Incentive Programs would not be required to upgrade to 2015 Edition EHR technology.

The announcement and further information on CMS’s EHR Incentive Programs are available here.