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Website details meaningful use incentives as more docs leave Medicare

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has launched a new website aimed at providing information on the meaningful use incentives mandated through the HITECH Act.

Providers will be able to find information about their eligibility to participate in the program. The HITECH Act, part of the stimulus law passed last year, requires doctors and hospitals to purchase certified electronic health records and demonstrate that they are using the systems according to criteria spelled out by the CMS. Providers can receive up to $44,000 a year for effective use of health information technology, and hospitals will receive incentive payments based on their patient populations.

The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program website currently is a repository for background information, as the federal agency continues to hammer out the final rule governing meaningful use criteria, which are expected to go into effect in 2011. Policymakers originally had hoped to release the final rule by the end of spring but missed the date.

Physicians who decide to participate in the EHR incentives will still be allowed to receive incentives through the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative as well, according to the site. Doctors will not be eligible for the CMS’ other incentive program for electronic prescribing if they sign up for the EHR incentive program.

The site also coordinates information with other components of the EHR program overseen by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. The ONC is charged with developing the standards and technical requirements of EHRs so that the systems operate according to meaningful use criteria. In addition, the office is developing the certification process that vendors must go through to ensure their products comply with meaningful use.

The EHR incentives are explained just as Congress grants a reprieve on a 21% Medicare payment reduction to physicians. The cuts had been in effect for a week, but lawmakers voted at the last minute to halt them for the next six months. The American Medical Association, which has said physicians are already limiting or cutting back on the number of Medicare patients they’ll see because of lower reimbursements, called the latest reprieve a patch on a larger problem of payment structuring.

If that’s the case, how many physicians will sign up for an EHR incentive program that requires doctors to see Medicare patients while buying expensive technology and routinely proving they are using that technology?

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