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Alexander Calls for Delay of Making Final Rules for Stage Three of Electronic Health Records Program

Chairman says “patients need an interoperable system that enables doctors and hospitals to share their electronic health records, but the government, doctors, and hospitals need time to do it right”

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 16 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today called for a delay until January 1, 2017, of making final rules for stage three of the federal government’s program to require doctors and hospitals to create electronic health records systems.

He said that stage three requirements should then be phased in at a rate that reflects how successfully the program is being implemented. He also said that the modified rules proposed for stage two of the program should be adopted immediately because it will help most doctors and hospitals to comply with the government’s requirements.

“Patients need an interoperable system that enables doctors and hospitals to share their electronic health records, but the government, doctors and hospitals need time to do it right,” Alexander told a senate hearing.  “Some hospitals have told me they are ‘terrified’ by the prospect of stage three.  It does not help patients to makes these massive changes fast and wrong.  It does help patients to do this deliberately and correctly so that hospitals and doctors embrace the changes instead of dread them.”

Since 2009, the federal government has spent more than $30 billion to encourage the nearly 500,000 physicians and more than 5,000 hospitals who serve Medicare and Medicaid recipients to establish electronic health records systems. About half of these doctors and most hospitals have established such systems. Beginning this year, the government is assessing penalties on those who have not. About 257,000 physicians have begun losing 1 percent of their Medicare reimbursements and 200 hospitals may be losing more than that, the senator said.

Alexander said that all hospitals and most physicians met the requirements of the first stage of the so-called “meaningful use” program but that stage two requirements are so complex that only about 12 percent of eligible physicians and 40 percent of eligible hospitals have been able to comply. “That is why the government should immediately adopt its proposed modifications to the stage two requirements—so physicians and hospitals have time to adapt to these huge changes,” he said.

“Our senate health committee has held five hearings on this electronic health records program,” Alexander said.  “Many of those who testified have urged us to delay making final these stage three requirements in order to really help patients. I look forward to working with Senator Murray, Secretary Burwell and other members of the administration on finding the best ways to modify this program and these requirements.”