Healthcare News & Insights

Will the feds put EHR incentives on hold?

Some groups, including a few lawmakers, have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to halt the federal EHR incentive program so the requirements can be reworked. 

Four Republican leaders in the House of Representatives — Dave Camp (MI), Wally Herger (CA), Joe Pitts (PA) and Fred Upton (MI) — recently sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging the agency to temporarily pause the federal program to offer incentives for Meaningful Use of electronic health records (EHRs).

The problem is that the rules for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use are a step backwards in the government’s push to use technology to improve health care, according to the Congressmen, who accuse HHS of lowering requirements to pad participation rates. According to the letter, many requirements are weaker than those in Stage 1, and the Stage 2 rules will do little to improve care and efficiency. For example, Stage 2 eliminates the need for providers to exchange information with other providers, replacing that objective with a requirement to provide summary of care records, even though interoperability between EHR systems is key to improving care.

To keep from moving forward and wasting more money on a flawed incentive program — and to avoid convincing providers to purchase EHR systems without key features and functions — the Congressmen are asking HHS to stop sending EHR incentive payments until the Meaningful Use rules require interoperability between EHR systems and the requirements increase the thresholds required for providers.

Will Meaningful Use rules change?

Are the feds likely to change course after having already released the final rule for Stage 2 Meaningful Use in August? HHS hasn’t responded to the letter, but some groups like the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) have argued against suspending the program.

According to HIMSS, it’s important for the incentive program to mandate gradual health IT adoption, because providers must learn the basics of EHRs before using more advanced features. And in fact, HIMSS says, the number of providers using interoperable EHRs and other advanced systems has increased since the incentive program began.

Also, as Joseph Conn of Modern Healthcare points out, the Meaningful Use rules have gotten more strict for the most part in the move from Stage 1 to Stage 2. For example, most numerical thresholds have increased in Stage 2.

What do you think? Is the federal incentive program on the right track with the Stage 2 Meaningful Use rules? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.

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