On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), a critical measure to stimulate the economy. Among other provisions, the new law provides major opportunities for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), its partner agencies, and the States to improve the nation’s health care through health information technology (HIT) by promoting the meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR) via incentives.
Funding is available to certain eligible professionals (EPs) and hospitals, as described below. Funds will be distributed through Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to EPs, physicians, and hospitals who are “meaningful EHR users.” In addition, with regard to the Medicaid program, federal matching funds are also available to States to support their administrative costs associated with these provisions.
Criteria for Qualifying for an Incentive
The qualification criteria for incentives (i.e., meeting specified HIT standards, policies, implementation specifications, timeframes, and certification requirements) are still in development, and will be defined through regulation and additional guidance materials. However, CMS generally expects that under Medicare, “meaningful EHR users” would demonstrate each of the following: meaningful use of a certified EHR, the electronic exchange of health information to improve the quality of health care, and reporting on clinical quality and other measures using certified EHR technology. Medicaid programs will determine their own requirements in line with the Medicaid-related provisions of the Recovery Act. Funds will be distributed through Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to EPs and hospitals who are “meaningful EHR users.” CMS intends to publish a proposed rule in late 2009 to propose a definition of meaningful use of certified Electronic Health Records (EHR) technology and establish criteria for the incentives programs. CMS is working extensively with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to identify the proposed criteria.
Medicare Payment Incentives for Eligible Professionals
The Recovery Act establishes financial incentives beginning in January 2011 for eligible professionals (EPs) who are meaningful EHR users. Beginning in 2015, payment adjustments will be imposed on EPs who are not meaningful EHR users. Hospital-based physicians who substantially furnish their services in a hospital setting are not eligible.
The incentive payment is equal to 75 percent of Medicare allowable charges for covered services furnished by the EP in a year, subject to a maximum payment in the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth years of $15,000; $12,000; $8,000; $4000; and $2,000, respectively. For early adopters whose first payment year is 2011, the maximum payment is $18,000 in the first year. There will be no payments for meaningful EHR use after 2016. There would be no payments to EPs who first become meaningful EHR users in 2015 or thereafter. For EPs who predominantly furnish services in a health professional shortage area (HPSA), incentive payments would be increased by 10 percent.
The Medicare fee schedule amount for professional services provided by an EP who was not a meaningful EHR user for the year would be reduced by 1 percent in 2015, by 2 percent in 2016, by 3 percent for 2017 and by between 3 to 5 percent in subsequent years. For 2018 and thereafter, if the Secretary finds that the proportion of EPs who are meaningful EHR users is less than 75 percent, then the reductions will be increased by 1 percentage point each year, but by not more than 5 percent overall.
Medicaid Payment Incentives
The Recovery Act establishes 100 percent Federal Financial Participation (FFP) for States to provide incentive payments to eligible Medicaid providers to purchase, implement, and operate (including support services and training for staff) certified EHR technology. It also establishes 90 percent FFP for State administrative expenses related to carrying out this provision.
Incentive Payments to Providers
Certain classes of Medicaid professionals and hospitals are eligible for incentive payments to encourage the adoption and use of certified EHR technology. Eligible professionals include physicians, dentists, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who are practicing in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) or Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) led by a physician assistant.
Eligible professionals must meet minimum Medicaid patient volume percentages, and must waive rights to duplicative Medicare EHR incentive payments. Eligible professionals may receive up to 85 percent of the net average allowable costs for certified EHR technology, including support and training (determined on the basis of studies that the Secretary will undertake), up to a maximum level, and incentive payments are available for no more than a 6-year period.
Acute care hospitals with at least 10 percent Medicaid patient volume would also be eligible for payments, as would children’s hospitals of any patient volume. Entities that promote the adoption of certified EHR technology, as designated by the State, are also eligible to receive incentive payments through arrangements with eligible professionals under certain conditions.
Medicaid Incentive Program Qualifications
To be eligible for incentive payments not associated with the initial adoption/implementation/upgrade of EHR technology, the provider must demonstrate meaningful use of the EHR technology through a means approved by the State and acceptable to the Secretary. In determining what is “meaningful use,” a State must ensure that populations with unique needs, such as children, are addressed. A State may also require providers to report clinical quality measures as part of the meaningful use demonstration. In addition, to the extent specified by the Secretary, the EHR technology must be compatible with State or Federal administrative management systems.
EPs may not receive an incentive under both Medicare and Medicaid in a given year. CMS and the States will develop means to prevent such duplicate payments. CMS expects that the prevention of duplicative payments will be addressed more fully through notice and comment rulemaking.