HHS and the CMS plan to launch a five-year program in which the CMS will recruit and pay 100 physicians in each of 12 target communities to report quality measures using electronic health-record systems, in what the government is describing as "the largest step yet" toward boosting physician adoption of EHR systems.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt was scheduled to attend a press conference announcing the plan at 499-bed Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, but was called to the White House to consult on the pending SCHIP legislation, and made the announcement via a telephone hookup. He said the program is not only a milepost in EHR adoption, Its a direction post that I believe will be profoundly acknowledged and recognized in the marketplace."
In a telephone interview earlier today, acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems said recruitment of physicians will begin in late winter or early spring and will focus on small groups, but could include solo practitioners.
"A lot of Americans go to practices with three to five docs," Weems said. "The (EHR) adoption rate is low in the three-to-five-doc range, but we also think it might be most responsive to the kinds of incentives" the CMS plans to use, he said. "We may take up some solo practices, too. But our sweet spot is three to five."
"We think this will touch 3.5 million people," Weems said.
Recruitment duties will fall to the CMS' Office of Research, Development and Information. EHRs used in the program must be tested and approved by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology.
The bonus program will be modeled after a four-state, three-year demonstration project under way since July in which physician payments are capped at $38,500 and groups at $195,500 if physicians make all reporting targets, Weems said. But the actual financial reimbursement rates for the new, larger program, remain a work in progress, he said.
"The final dollars are going to be determined by the actuaries, since this has to be done in a budget-neutral way," he said. Weems said the savings to pay for the bonus payments should come from reductions in adverse events, especially in prescribed drugs, as well as fewer duplicate tests, emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
Weems said the hope is the federal program also will be a catalyst for private-sector payers to support similar bonus programs for quality measures reporting through EHRs.
"We're being pretty loud about this announcement and we're hopeful the private sector will join us to by doing the exact same thing we are," Weems said.