Federally Funded Electronic Health Recordkeeping: Friend or Foe?

The Federal HITECH Act will provide over $20 billion to promote health care provider use of electronic health records.  Starting this year, “meaningful” EHR users can earn $44,000 under Medicare and $64,000 under Medicaid over 5 years.  Those who enroll early will benefit the most, because nearly 70% of the payments come in the program’s first 2 years.  Physicians who have engaged in PQRI and electronic prescribing in the past few years have put another $6,000 to $8,000 in their pockets.

The Federal push for electronic health records isn’t going away.  Over $7 billion has been released to fund state capacity for exchanging health information across the health care system both within and across states.  The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration received nearly $21 million to develop this state’s health information infrastructure.  The intent is to assure a fully connected national health care IT system to provide all health care providers and their patients seamless access to a patient’s medical information.

This move into the electronic age isn’t without growing pains.  On February 25, 2011, the AMA, along with 39 national medical organizations, issued a 46 page letter to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology citing serious concerns with the rollout of this initiative.  Citing the absence of IT infrastructure to assure interoperability among the various participants, the AMA shared concerns regarding financial and administrative costs physicians will bear under the current plan to build this infrastructure.  The AMA shared concerns that specialists will be required to collect unnecessary data, as the EHR requirements contain many measures that are primary care focused.  The AMA suggested exclusion from those and other meaningless requirements. It also recommended removal of requirements for non-physician access to the EHR, such as patients and laboratories, to reduce the complexity of the project.

On Friday, April 1, from 1:30 until 3 PM EST, the CMS Provider Communications Group will host a national provider education call for eligible professionals about registration for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program.  It will cover the following topics:  eligibility for incentives; switching between Medicare and Medicaid Incentive Programs; reassigning payments; pre-registration; registration; and helpful resources.  Registration will close at 1:30 PM on March 31 or when all spaces are filled.  To register for the call, go to http://www.eventsvc.com/palmettogba/040111  Fill in the required information and click ‘Register”.  You will receive a confirmation email shortly thereafter.

This EHR initiative also comes with a stick.  Physicians who do not e-prescribe will experience a Medicare reimbursement reduction of 1% beginning January 1, 2012.  Physicians who do not meaningfully use an EHR by 2015 also will be penalized through percentage decreases in Medicare reimbursement rates.


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