Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some Urge HHS to extend EHR Safe Harbor Rule

Lawmakers and certain interest groups are urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to extend certain “safe harbor” rules allowing hospitals to share electronic health record (EHR) software with referring physicians. Anti-kickback laws normally make it illegal to take actions intended to influence referrals for Medicare patients, according to, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) established the Stark exception to allow hospitals and medical labs to donate EHR software to physicians who might otherwise not invest the money to switch to electronic records.

With the exception set to expire at the end of the year, the Federation of American Hospitals sent a letter to HHS in February, naming the extension of the EHR exceptions its top priority. The trade group urged regulators to extend the exceptions through 2016, when federal grants to encourage EHR adoption are set to end.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) also sent a letter to HHS last month. In his letter, Rep. McDermott urged the agency to extend exceptions soon “so that providers have the certainty that they need to continue engaging in efforts designed to promote care coordination. The safe harbor created…encourages collaboration among providers, yet also contains rigorous requirements that providers must meet in order to protect the Medicare and Medicaid programs from the few unscrupulous providers who would donate electronic health record software in exchange for referrals.”

The EHR exception, along with another “safe harbor” rule, are currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Experts believe that the exceptions will be extended before their expiration at the end of the year.

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