Over half of docs have received EHR incentive payments

Key federal programs to boost electronic health-record system use passed a milestone last month as more than half of physicians and other “eligible professionals” have received incentive payments for attesting to the adoption of a certified EHR system.

As of April, 191,305 physicians and EPs have received EHR incentive payments from Medicare, while 88,903 have received payments from Medicaid and 11,117 from Medicare Advantage under programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In January, the CMS reported that 527,200 EPs are eligible for payments, so 55.3% of all EPs have now received some form of EHR incentive payment, according to the latest CMS data.

Another 99,144 EPs have registered with the Medicare or Medicaid programs but have not yet been paid.

In March, 48.5% of EPs had been paid.

Payments to EPs so far total just over $5.9 billion, with 63% coming from Medicare, 33.8% from Medicaid and 3.2% from Medicare Advantage. EPs may participate in only one of these three programs.

Medicare and Medicare Advantage EPs include physicians, optometrists, podiatrists, chiropractors and dentists. Medicaid EPs are physicians, dentists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and certified nurse-midwifes.

Also through April, 3,880 hospitals have received incentive payments from either Medicare or Medicaid, or both, sharing more than $8.7 billion in ARRA funds. The CMS earlier estimated that 5,011 hospitals were eligible for the programs, which puts the current payment rate at 77.4%.

Combined, the EP and hospital programs have paid out just over $14.6 billion.

Office-based physicians had long since passed the half-way mark of EHR adoption, according to a definitive survey by the National Center for Health Statistics at HHS. Its December survey results showed that 71.8% of physicians, when asked if they used “any” EHR, without going into that system's functionality, answered that they did.

The significance of today's announcement is in the quality of the systems now in use by a majority of physicians and EPs.

To be eligible for use by clinicians and hospitals in the federal incentive payment programs, EHRs that providers use must be tested and certified to criteria developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS. Providers then must attest that they have adopted, implemented or upgraded to a certified EHR to be eligible for Medicaid payments or attest that they have met the “meaningful-use” criteria for Medicare payments.

While EHR adoption continues to increase, other portions of the federal IT program have come under increasing scrutiny and criticism.

Last month, six Republican U.S. senators issued a white paper calling for a reboot of the federal efforts. The senators criticized the program as lacking a clear path toward interoperability, and they cited earlier concerns raised by the Justice Department that health information technology systems may facilitate billing fraud. They also cited an HHS inspector general's report criticizing the CMS for a general lack of oversight of the EHR incentive payment program. More recently, in response to the senators' call for comments, several healthcare organizations praised the federal program for boosting EHR adoption, while also noting the need for more standardization and interoperability.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn



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