HHS Reform Timelines…Wiggle Room In Sight?

December 3, 2011
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Aggressive IT deadlines have left the healthcare industry scrambling to meet a host of regulatory mandates spanning HIT adoption, payment transaction methodologies, coding standards, and state-run health insurance exchanges.  Hundreds of new regulations have been implemented over the past couple of years, leaving the industry torn in how limited time and resources are utilized among care delivery, quality and cost reduction initiatives, process/infrastructure modernization, and increasingly stringent regulatory reporting requirements.

Aggressive IT deadlines have left the healthcare industry scrambling to meet a host of regulatory mandates spanning HIT adoption, payment transaction methodologies, coding standards, and state-run health insurance exchanges.  Hundreds of new regulations have been implemented over the past couple of years, leaving the industry torn in how limited time and resources are utilized among care delivery, quality and cost reduction initiatives, process/infrastructure modernization, and increasingly stringent regulatory reporting requirements.

Hospitals and doctors have been especially overwhelmed with regulations and have been reprioritizing investments to support EMR implementation, Meaningful Use qualification, and what is expected to be a tidal wave of new entrants into the system once the 2014 health reform mandates become effective.

The American Medical Association (AMA) set newswires and the blogosphere abuzz last week when they publically voiced opposition to the transition to ICD-10 coding stating “the implementation of ICD-10 will create significant burdens on the practice of medicine with no direct benefit to individual patients’ care.”  Some dispute the AMA’s move as self-serving given their interests in maintaining the stature and importance of the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code set.  Nevertheless, whether the AMA’s move was defensive or not is irrelevant – the vast majority of providers and a meaningful cross-section of payers are ill-prepared to meet the ICD-10 transition deadlines that CMS currently has in place.

To the relief of payers, providers, vendors, and states, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have recently backed off from a few key deadlines.  While these announcements by no means cancel any existing mandates, at a minimum they buy the industry some time to comply with the overarching legislative intent of increasing coverage among the uninsured population, incentivizing IT adoption, and driving improved levels of care delivery.  Of note:

  1. HIPAA 5010– CMS announced that it would hold off enforcing the HIPAA 5010 transaction sets until March 31, 2012, a 90-day extension to the original enforcement date. While the compliance date will technically remain intact, relaxing the enforcement date “encourages all covered entities to continue working with their trading partners to become compliant with the new HIPAA standards and to determine their readiness to accept the new standards as of Jan. 1, 2012,” as stated in a release by CMS’ Office of E-Health Standards and Services (OESS).HIPAA 5010 is widely viewed as a precursor to the impending transition to ICD-10 in October 2013. The enormity of that effort will dwarf HIPAA 5010. This week’s announcement foreshadows further delays yet to come.
  2. Stage 2 Meaningful Use– HHS announced this week that it would delay its compliance date for Stage 2 Meaningful Use from 2013 to 2014. The extension specifically impacts eligible providers that qualified for Stage 1 Meaningful Use in 2011. Providers, vendors, and government work groups alike have noted the timing issues and inherent disincentive posed on early adopters attempting to adhere to criteria that have yet to be finalized. The Health IT Policy Committee, a federally-chartered advisory panel to HHS, recommended these changes earlier this year to the endorsement of Farzad Mostashari, M.D., ONC’s National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged the progress to date, referring to the reported doubling of HIT adoption over the past two years. In its move to extend the Stage 2 deadline HHS has smartly protected its initial success by attentively listening and responding to the needs of an overwhelmed provider community.
  3. Health Insurance Exchanges – HHS (though the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight – CCIIO) has seemingly relaxed (or at least clarified) a critical deadline for the states to stand-up their Insurance Exchanges. This week, CCIIO extended a grant deadline by six months until June 2012 from December 2011. Also CCIIO has committed funding for the establishment exchanges beyond the previous January 1, 2014 deadline. Now states have until December 2014 to apply for grants for continued exchange development provided that at least a portion of the exchange is operational by January 1, 2014.

While it is not entirely clear why these significant changes coincided in timing – perhaps it had to do with the resignation of controversial CMS chief Don Berwick – these reprieves are no doubt welcomed within the industry. The extra time will give payers, providers, and states some extra time to meet their compliance mandates.

This extra time should not be squandered. Industry participants must continue to plan for and implement systems that support new EDI standards within 5010, the reporting requirements of Stage 2 Meaningful Use, and the complexities of insurance exchanges. Furthermore, the real value in any of these mandates is not meeting the minimum requirements of the mandate itself, but rather the powerful and compelling capabilities that each enables in terms of improved communication and workflow automation that will enable entirely new quality and cost initiatives.

We’re optimistic that the timeline flexibility of HHS regarding timelines will promote more thoughtful approaches, investments and implementations across all impacted organizations, let us know what you think.

Scott Donahue

Scott Donahue is a Vice President at TripleTree covering infrastructure and application technologies across numerous industries and specializes in assessing the “master brands” of IT and Healthcare. Follow Scott on Twitter or e-mail him at sdonahue@triple-tree.com

Seth Kneller

Seth Kneller is an Associate at TripleTree covering the healthcare industry, specializing in revenue cycle management, clinical software solutions, geriatric care and healthcare analytics. Follow Seth on Twitter or e-mail him at skneller@triple-tree.com.