CMS Formalizes Plan to Extend Meaningful Use Deadlines

On May 20, CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology formalized its decision to extend Stage 2 of the Electronic Health Records ("EHR") Incentive Programs for an additional year (through 2016), meaning the earliest hospitals could move to Stage 3 would be 2017.

The proposed rule would allow hospitals to use 2011 certified EHR technology or a combination of the 2011 and 2014 certified EHR technology to show meaningful use status in 2014. CMS notes that beginning in 2015, providers and hospitals would still be required to report with the upgraded 2014 technology.

CMS said that because of timing, backlogs and certification case load, many EHR products were certified later than hoped, which has made it difficult for hospitals to effectively deploy 2014 Edition EHR technology while making the necessary patient safety, staff training and workflow investments to demonstrate meaningful use in 2014.

The rule also makes the new 2014 definition of Stage 1 an option for providers seeking to meet meaningful use, as they can choose to meet the 2013 objectives and measures for Stage 1 meaningful use instead.

HHS Announces New Funding for Innovation Testing

On May 21, CMS announced it had awarded 12 organizations $110 million to various academic, research and provider groups to carry out projects to improve care for people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program ("CHIP"). Additional awards will be announced in the coming months for total round-two funding of up to $1 billion.

CMS also announced up to $730 million in funding to help states and territories design and test new payment and service delivery models for Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP. Letters of intent to apply for the state awards are due by June 6. Applications are due July 21. The money will be awarded in the fall.

CMS Releases Final Medicare Advantage, Part D Rule

On May 19, CMS published a final rule for the Medicare Advantage and Part D programs. It requires doctors prescribing drugs for Part D patients to enroll in Medicare and establishes authority for CMS to revoke a doctor's Medicare eligibility for abusive prescribing practices, among other provisions.

Senate Finance Advances Burwell Nomination

On May 21, the Senate Finance Committee advanced the nomination of Sylvia Burwell to succeed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius by a vote of 21-3. The committee vote was the final step before the nomination goes before the full Senate. On May 22, Senate Majority Leader Reid filed cloture on the nomination, which sets up a potential vote for some time after the Senate returns from Memorial Day recess.

Bills Introduced This Week

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill (S. 2353) that would require Medicare participating hospitals to create staffing plans and ensure an appropriate number of registered nurses are available to provide direct patient care during any given shift, based on factors such as the number of patients and the intensity of care needed. A companion bill was introduced in the House in April 2013.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend titles XVIII and XIX of the Social Security Act to apply the Medicare restriction on self-referral to state plan requirements under Medicaid. The bill is intended to clarify how the Stark Law applies to claims for Medicaid designated health services, as well as Medicare designated health services.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) introduced legislation (H.R. 4673) to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide bundled payments for post-acute care services under parts A and B of Medicare.

Next Week in Washington

The House returns on May 28 for an abbreviated workweek. The House will continue work on annual appropriations spending bills. The Senate will be out next week for the Memorial Day recess and will return June 2.