CMS EHR incentive payments surpass $5B

By Mary Mosquera
12:34 PM
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Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record payments have tipped the scales at over $5 billion to 93,650 physicians and hospitals in total program estimates through April.

Final figures will be available later this this month as progress “continues apace,” according to an official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In April alone, the agency paid $287 million to Medicare providers and $299 million to Medicaid providers for a total of $586 million in preliminary estimates, said Robert Anthony, a specialist in CMS’ Office of eHealth Standards and Services. He was reporting the program status to the May 2 meeting of Health IT Policy Committee, which advises the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

[Commentary: Why Stage 2 MU transactions need more than SMTP.]

Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national health IT coordinator, was heartened by the strong participation of providers.

“It’s hard in a nation as large and complex as ours not to look at these strong numbers and not feel encouraged that the combination of policies, programs and, importantly, the effects of the really hard work at the state level and by hospitals and by eligible professionals have translated into a tremendous effort, will and execution on the part of the country,” he said.

CMS reported that through March it had paid $4.5 billion to 76,612 providers. In March, CMS paid out about $603 incentive payments, with $339.9 million to 8,700 Medicare providers and about $263 million to Medicaid providers, Anthony said. 

“We are seeing roughly similar levels as we continue to pay out for the 2011 year,” he told the committee. Providers could attest through February to be included in 2011 for meaningful use. 

One year into the program to drive the adoption and meaningful use of certified EHRs, 42 percent of all eligible hospitals have received an incentive payment for either demonstration of meaningful use or, in the case of Medicaid providers, or to adopt, implement or update their systems. “These are hospitals that have made a financial commitment to put an EHR in place,” he said.

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One of every 9 Medicare eligible physicians and professionals are meaningful users of EHRs. Interestingly, more than half, or 57 percent, of Medicare providers receiving incentives are specialists. “We often hear that we’re geared more to primary care, but we have a lot who are not primary care physicians but are participating and are meaningful users of EHRs,” Anthony said.

To support the drive for meaningful use, regional health IT extension centers funded by ONC now enroll more than 40 percent, or 132,000, of all primary care providers in the country.

Of those, 50,000 providers are in practices with fewer than 10 physicians and another 17,000 providers were formerly in small practices. Of these 67,000 small practice providers, 58 percent have already established an EHR.

“RECs are geared to make sure that these benefits are accruing as widely as possible,” Mostashari said. One concern whenever there is a national program is around disparities, making sure that rural areas, smaller practices and hospitals can also meet adoption.

“The good news is that there is a dramatically increasing trend among all groups of rates of adoption,” he said.

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Large hospitals have increased from 19 percent meeting the basic EHR definition with clinical notes to 43 percent within three years. In 2008, only 6 percent of small hospitals met that test. It has tripled to 21 percent, but more work needs to be done, Mostashari said.

The extension centers are assisting 70 percent of the small practice providers in rural areas. In Nebraska, it’s more than 90 percent of small providers. The extension centers support 963, or 74 percent, critical access hospitals, and 85 rural hospitals, all of which have 25 beds or less, according to the ONC data.
 

Follow Mary Mosquera on Twitter: @GovHITreporter.