MEDICARE EHR MEANINGFUL USE PENALTY NOTICES ON THEIR WAY TO 257,000
On December 21, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began issuing letters to physicians and other health professionals eligible to participate in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program notifying them of a 1% Medicare payment penalty they will incur in 2015 for failing to meet Stage 1 meaningful use (MU) benchmarks for use of electronic health records (EHRs). More than 257,000 eligible professionals (EPs) are slated to receive penalty notification letters, a number the American Medical Association (AMA) says is “worse than we anticipated.” Physicians facing the 1% penalty in 2015 will experience an additional 1% payment reduction in each subsequent year they fail to meet EHR MU objectives, up to a maximum of 5%. A physician who also fails to meet MU e-prescribing objectives set through the Electronic Prescribing Incentive Program will experience an additional 1% penalty reduction in Medicare payment. Of the 257,000 EPs scheduled to be penalized under the EHR meaningful use program in 2015, approximately 28,000 also face the 1% e-prescribing penalty.
Data has not yet been made available to show how many Iowa physicians and other health professionals eligible to participate in these two Medicare incentive programs are facing the 2015 Medicare payment penalties. CMS data does show, however, that from January 2011-October 2014, EPs in Iowa received total incentive payments of $350,896,401 for meeting Stage 1 EHR MU objectives either through Medicare ($244,634,629) or Medicaid ($106,261). National data also indicates that Iowa providers have made substantial progress in implementing and using e-prescribing.
The AMA issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” that more than 50% of all EPs will face MU penalties in 2015. “The penalties physicians are facing under the Meaningful Use program are part of a regulatory tsunami facing physicians,” including potential payment reductions from the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and the Value-based Modifier Program (VBM) as well as ongoing application of budget sequester cuts. Effective April 1, 2015, physicians also face a 21.2% Medicare payment reduction absent corrective congressional action on the SGR.
Not all physicians are eligible to participate in these Medicare MU incentive programs and many eligible physicians applied for and received hardship exemptions making the 2015 penalties inapplicable to them. Of those who are eligible, many elect not to participate, believing the payment penalties they would incur are far less than the costs, burdens, and problems they would face in purchasing and implementing electronic health record systems at this time. An AMA-RAND study released in October 2013 showed that EHR implementation was a significant factor in growing physician dissatisfaction with medical practice. Physicians say that EHR systems interfere with face-to-face physician-patient interactions; are more cumbersome and expensive to implement than projected; often are not interoperable; and are fraught with operational failings.
The AMA continues to advocate for suspension of EHR MU penalties while promoting EHR MU program improvements to better reflect the current state of EHR system functionality, interoperability, workability, and costs. (Link to October 13, 2014 letter: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2014/2014-10-14-ama-blueprint-improve-meaningful-use.page)
Physicians receiving letters will have until the end of February to challenge CMS’ determination.