The New Meaningful Use Rules: What You Need to Know

November 20, 2015 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Meaningful Use Stage 2

Medical office professionals, healthcare technology providers, and medical billing companies alike were eagerly awaiting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) latest announcement on October 6th, in which they released the finalized modifications to the Stage 2 rules of Meaningful Use and the updated Stage 3 regulations. (In addition, they announced a 60-day public comment period about Stage 3 of the EHR Incentive Program as it relates to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.)

Why the anticipation? Stakeholders were eager to find out if the CMS would address their concerns – which were plentiful. In recent months and years, doctors, technologists, and industry observers have been vocal about the flaws they see in the various stages of the Meaningful Use program, especially what they view as overly burdensome attestation and reporting requirements.

The good news: Some relief is in sight. Healthcare industry experts are still parsing through all of the nuances of the announcement (and the 752-page rulebook that accompanied it) but it’s clear that with the latest changes the CMS is aiming, in its own words, to “simplify requirements and add new flexibilities for providers to make electronic health information available when and where it matters most.” The most important takeaways from the Meaningful Use updates are highlighted below.

Time is on Your Side (in 2015 & Beyond)

The CMS made it clear that they want providers to face less pressure when it comes to meeting their timing requirements, as evidenced by several of the Stage 2 program changes:

  • A new 90-day reporting period for eligible providers (EPs) was instituted for 2015.
  • From 2015-2017, EPs are responsible for just 10 objectives – 8 fewer than in previous stages. Eligible and critical access hospitals will only be required to meet nine objectives, down from the previous mark of 20.
  • Attesting to Meaningful Use Stage 3 will be optional in 2017, and first-time Meaningful Use participants will have a 90-day reporting requirement in 2016 and 2017. However, all eligible providers will have to comply with stage 3 beginning in 2018, using an EHR system that meets the 2015 Edition Certified EHR requirements.

Lower Thresholds & Fewer Reduncies

The CMS also recognized and corrected few missteps with its latest rule changes, including what many saw as overexpectations with regards to interoperability.

  • For Stage 2, the view, download, and transmit (VDT) requirements were reduced from 5 percent of an EP’s patient panel to one single patient, and the secure messaging requirements were lessened from 5 percent of an EP’s patient panel to showing they have the capability to do so.
  • For Stage 3, the VDT and secure messaging requirements both went from 25 percent of an EP’s patient panel to 5 percent. The threshold on a requirement that asked EPs to incorporate patient-generated health data into the EHR was also lowered from 15 percent to 5 percent.
  • For the years 2015-2017, CMS removed requirements that were redundant for Stage 2, including recording demographics, structured lab results, and several others.

But… There’s More to Come

As happy as the healthcare and medical billing community may be over the latest set of changes, it’s unwise to get too comfortable. Beyond the finalized rule updates, there is still the 60-day comment period for the Stage 3 EHR Incentive program (and the changes it will reap) to contend with.

What modification will arise from that, we’re yet to know, but industry experts expect interoperability to become a greater factor in future Stage 3 updates. As always, stay tuned… If there’s one thing the CMS knows, it’s how to keep EPs and others in anticipation!

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