Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber said that although many of the details of the health IT provisions included in the stimulus packaged still need to be worked out, health care providers should start planning the rollout of electronic health record systems now to gain the maximum financial incentives, Health Data Management reports.
Lieber said that the definition of a "meaningful electronic health record" system that qualifies health care providers for incentive payments, as well as other details of the package, still need to be ironed out. However, he said that software vendors and health care providers cannot afford to delay health IT projects because health care providers must have qualifying EHR systems in place by 2011 to maximize incentive payments.
The economic stimulus package signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday includes $17.2 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments over a five-year period for physicians and hospitals that use EHR systems.
Physicians could qualify for $44,000 to more than $60,000 in incentive payments, including $18,000 the first year, if they have an EHR system in place by 2011.
Hospitals could receive Medicare incentive payments starting at $2 million annually, as well as an additional payment based on Medicare patient volume, according to HIMSS. Medicare incentive payments for hospitals decrease over the five-year period.
Beginning in 2015, physicians and hospitals will face escalating Medicare payment cuts if they do not have an EHR system in place.
Under the stimulus package, qualifying EHR systems must include:
- Clinical decision support;
- Physician order entry;
- The ability to capture health care quality data; and
- The ability to support the exchange of clinical data with other organizations.
Lieber said that the definition of a qualifying EHR system will change to a tougher standard midway through the incentive program and that health care providers and vendors will have to make adjustments.
Lieber urged health IT software vendors to offer "iron-clad, binding agreements" to meet emerging standards.
Lieber said that while the stimulus package does include some funding for health IT grants and loans, "most providers will have to make their own upfront investments in technology."
However, Lieber stressed that if health care providers fail to invest in health IT, they could face substantial long-term cuts in Medicare funding (Anderson, Health Data Management, 2/18).