Officials Doubtful That Federal Government Will Halt EHR Pay

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Officials from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and CMS recently expressed doubt that the federal government would halt the distribution of incentive programs for Stage 2 of the meaningful use program, Healthcare IT News reports (Versel, Healthcare IT News, 10/23).

Under the 2009 federal economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record systems can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments.

Background

Earlier this month, four GOP House members sent a letter asking HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend incentive payments for Stage 2 of the meaningful use program.

The letter claimed that nearly $10 billion might have been wasted because the rules under Stage 2 are "weaker" than those under Stage 1. It added that certain standards in Stage 2 are "insufficient" or "woefully inadequate" (iHealthBeat, 10/5).

In addition, four GOP senators last week sent a letter to Sebelius requesting a meeting with staff members from ONC and CMS to discuss Stage 2 of the meaningful use program (iHealthBeat, 10/19).

Officials' Response

During the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' CIO Forum in Indian Wells, Calif., National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari dismissed the lawmakers' demands to halt Stage 2 incentive payments, Healthcare IT News reports.

Mostashari added that CHIME was "on the money" in a letter it sent urging the GOP House members to be patient because Stage 2 does not begin until 2014.

Also during CHIME's CIO forum, Travis Broome -- team lead for health IT policy and oversight at CMS -- said that suspending the meaningful use program would require a regulatory revision and possibly an act of Congress. Such a regulatory process could take months or years (Healthcare IT News, 10/23).

During the annual conference of MGMA-ACMPE -- formerly the Medical Group Management Association -- Broome noted that Sebelius does not have the power to halt the meaningful use incentive payments herself because they are statutory. He added that any changes to the meaningful use program would require changes to the 2009 federal economic stimulus package.

Sebelius, Mostashari and acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner are preparing a formal response to the GOP lawmakers' letters, Broome said.

Meaningful Use Auditors Seek Obvious Targets

Also during the MGMA-ACMPE conference, Broome said that auditors are looking for obvious cases of potential fraud when evaluating meaningful use reports submitted by health care providers.

CMS auditors are "not looking for low-hanging fruit, but fruit that has fallen on the ground," he said.

For example, one health care provider reported the same numbers on all quality measures for the meaningful use program. After auditors inquired about the data, the health care provider voluntarily returned the incentive money, Broome said (Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare, 10/23).


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