Feds Fork Over $7 Billion In EHR Payments

Nov 08, 2012 (06:11 AM EST)

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The federal government paid out $7.7 billion as of the end September in incentive payments to those participating in the federal electronic health record incentive programs, according to recent data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

It's estimated that the agency will make payments totaling $27 billion to the 300,000 physicians and other eligible professionals participating in the program, as well as the 4,000 hospitals that have enrolled in the Medicare EHR incentive program, the Medicaid incentive program, or both.

According to the CMS report, as of September, approximately 303,072 physicians opted to participate in the two programs, which indicates a 7% jump in total enrollment. Of the 303,072 physicians, 208,331 chose to participate in the program administered through Medicare, while 94,741 have enrolled in the Medicaid program.

[ For the latest development on Meaningful Use, see Meaningful Use Stage 2 Rules Finalized. ]

Throughout September, 4,057 hospitals have registered, showing another 2% increase since August. According to CMS, it paid 82, 535 physicians and other eligible professionals $1.4 billion in incentive money under the Medicare EHR program, while 60,208 of their peers collected $1.2 billion in Medicaid EHR dollars.

Currently the two programs have made 4,211 payments to 3,044 hospitals totaling $4.9 billion. Nearly $2.6 billion has been paid through Medicare and approximately $2.3 billion paid through Medicaid. According to CMS, the number of hospital payments can exceed the number of hospitals enrolled because hospitals can receive payments under both Medicare and Medicaid.

Approximately a year ago, only 3,700 physicians had reported participating in Meaningful Use, proving that providers, including early adopters, would find it difficult to attest. Of the first healthcare providers to receive these payments, though, approximately half had been using EHRs for several years prior to the government program. Although some questioned the effectiveness of the incentive program as a result of these findings, experts concluded the program isn't designed to reward those who purchase the technology, but is instead intended to move doctors and hospitals to an electronic infrastructure to provide better care.

Experts also concluded a year ago it's "nonsensical" to suppose early adopters would cause the government to run out of money and therefore not provide payments to physicians who buy EHRs. As of October 2011, CMS' projection of money spent in incentive payments stood between $14 billion and $27 billion, putting the program's intentions on target.

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)