It will not be a happy new year for about 171,000 Medicare eligible professionals, who will be facing a 3 percent payment reduction in 2017 under the Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program for failing to demonstrate meaningful use in 2015.

That’s the official number provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“An EP that did not successfully demonstrate meaningful use for an applicable EHR reporting period in 2015 will receive a reduction in their Medicare Physician Fee Schedule payments for covered professional services in calendar year 2017,” a CMS fact sheet indicates.

However, CMS was quick to point out that 171,000 EPs negatively impacted in 2017 is down significantly from the 257,000 and 209,000 that were penalized in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Nonetheless, the 3 percent downward payment adjustment in 2017 is more than the 2 percent decrease in 2016.

Also See: CMS details penalties for EPs who can’t achieve MU

“It is disappointing that, despite the fact that Congress passed legislation and CMS implemented a hardship exception based on the fact that the agency released the final rule after the start of the final reporting period, a significant number of physicians will be subject to the 2017 penalty,” says Robert Tennant, director of health IT policy at the Medical Group Management Association.

“This 171,000 figure suggests that CMS inadequately educated the physician community on this new hardship exception,” Tennant added.

CMS officials were not immediately available for comment. Nonetheless, an executive at one of the nation’s largest physician groups said he was not surprised by the numbers released by the agency.

“After talking to policy people, we expected the numbers to be lower than in past years, given the simple ‘check the box’ hardship exemption for the 2015 program year, issued as a result of the final rule coming out so late in 2015,” said the executive, who declined to be identified.

“It is lower than previous years, but probably not as low as we would have expected or liked,” added the executive. “In 2016, over 209,000 EPs were penalized—roughly two out of every five EPs. In 2015, it was 257,000. So the numbers are going down, but it’s still really challenging for physicians. Part of the problem is all the changes that keep occurring from year to year. Then, we have to send out messages late in the year about how to comply.”

Still, the good news is that relief is in sight. According to CMS, the Medicare payment adjustments began on Jan. 1, 2015, for EPs and will end in 2018, in accordance with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).

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