The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is trying to downplay concerns about the financial penalties that providers will incur this year in the form of Medicare payment reductions for failure to become meaningful users of electronic health records.

Speaking at a Jan. 13 Health IT Policy Committee, Elisabeth Myers from the CMS Office of E-Health Standards and Services told committee members that about a little more than 200 eligible hospitals and approximately 240,000 eligible professionals will be receiving a payment adjustment in 2015.

“I want to qualify those numbers though—and we’ll have some better analysis on that going forward— because those payment adjustments are based on your percentage of Medicare claims volume,” said Myers. “So, when you’re talking about the eligible professionals—especially the number who are actually receiving a significant payment adjustment—and by significant I mean if we did a cut off estimate of say $5,000 above or below--it’s actually a very, very small number that are receiving any form of significant payment adjustment.”

Based on the data presented by Myers, Paul Tang, M.D., co-chair of the committee, agreed that "the number of providers who have more than $5,000 in payment adjustments is actually very low." Myers provided the estimate in response to a question from Mark Probst, a committee member and CIO of Intermountain Healthcare, who asked if CMS knew how many eligible professionals and hospitals will start incurring penalties this year “because in some of the press I’ve seen the number seems really large.”

Last month, CMS briefed reporters that more than 257,000 physicians--more than 50 percent of eligible professionals--will start receiving notices that they are subject to Medicare payment reductions beginning in 2015 for failing to demonstrate MU in previous years. In response, the American Medical Association issued a statement saying that the physician group was “appalled” by the announcement from CMS and that the number of EPs impacted was “even worse than we anticipated.”

Fueling concerns about the financial hit that providers will take in 2015 and beyond, in September at AHIMA’s annual conference ONC’s then-chief nursing officer Judy Murphy boasted that penalties are “just kicking in” in 2015 and that over time the penalties could yield savings to the federal government of up to $6 billion.

Probst stated the obvious to the HIT Policy Committee that “if they are incurring penalties, that’s going to be a negative at least to the program.” Myers told the committee that CMS needs to conduct further analysis to “understand why exactly it is that these particular individuals are not coming in and participating in the program.”


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