On January 22, 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) announced the launch of a new, streamlined application process for providers and hospitals seeking a hardship exception from financial penalties for failing to meet meaningful use electronic health record requirements.   According to CMS, “[t]he streamlined hardship applications reduce the amount of information that . . . must be submit[ted] to apply for an exception.”

The new application process is the result of recent Medicare legislation—the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (“PAMPA”)—and the agency’s ongoing efforts to improve the program.  PAMPA , which was signed into law on December 28, 2015, enables CMS to grant hardships not just on a case-by-case basis, as previously required, but also, for a limited time, to certain “categories” of providers and hospitals.  Thus, the new application allows providers to apply for an exception under certain categories, such as electronic health record certification/vendor issues and extreme and uncontrollable circumstances, instead of CMS considering each application on its own merits.

Also, CMS determined that it had the authority to allow groups of providers to apply for a hardship exception on a single application.  Under this group application, multiple providers may apply for an exception together using a single submission.

Eligible professionals that wish to use the streamlined application must submit their application by March 15, 2016.  Eligible hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals must submit the streamlined application by April 1, 2016.