The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Oct. 6 released a final rule for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Programs that modifies the reporting period in 2015 to a 90-day period aligned with the calendar year. The AHA welcomed the move.

The rule also adds other flexibilities, including reducing the share of patients that must use the patient portal from 5% to at least one patient and modifying the summary of care requirements.

“We are pleased that CMS released the long-awaited modifications rule,” AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement. “Hospitals will finally have the clarity they need to take steps to ensure they meet the revised requirements.”

In addition, the rule defines Stage 3 “meaningful use” for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, and says all participants will be required to meet Stage 3 beginning in 2018, a move the AHA called "deeply disappointing."

 “Despite the urging of hospitals, physicians and Congress, the Stage 3 final rule includes many new and more challenging requirements,” said Pollack, noting that more than 60% of hospitals and about 90% of physicians have yet to attest to Stage 2. “The Stage 3 rule is too much too soon,” he added.

In recent weeks, calls for a Stage 3 delay grew louder, with Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., among those requesting it (see story on page 7). Nonetheless, Stage 3 will go on as planned.

In the final rule, CMS also seeks comments on certain provisions of Stage 3, in particular to support the transition to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, which was established by the 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology also released a companion rule that finalizes new certification criteria, standards and implementation specifications for EHR technology. 

CMS said it received more than 2,500 comments on the proposed rules.

AHA members Oct. 7 received a Special Bulletin with more details on the rules.