The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today, October 20, 2011, that the use of certified electronic health records (EHRs) will be the highest-weighted quality measure for an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) under the new Medicare Shared Savings Program.
ACOs are designed to encourage primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, and other health care providers to coordinate their care. The CMS Final Rule on ACOs bases the amount of shared savings that an ACO may receive for its performance on four domains of quality: 1) quality standards on patient experience; 2) care coordination and patient safety; 3) preventive health; and 4) at-risk populations. To earn shared savings the first performance year, providers must report across all four domains of quality, which include a total of 33 quality measures. Providers will begin to share in savings based on how well they perform on 23 of the 33 quality measures in the second performance year and on 32 of the 33 measures in the third performance year.
Measure 20 of the 33 quality measures requires ACOs to report the percentage of primary care providers (PCPs) who successfully qualify for an EHR Incentive Program payment. CMS expanded the scope of PCPs who can be counted in this measure by eliminating the requirement that the PCP be a “meaningful EHR user” as defined in 42 C.F.R. § 495.4 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. CMS stated that it “decided to . . . expand [measure 20] to include any PCP who successfully qualifies for an EHR Incentive Program incentive rather than only including those deemed meaningful users.”
In the proposed ACO regulation, released April 7, 2011, CMS had proposed five EHR related quality measures–measures 19 to 23. In the Final Rule, CMS decided to retain and expand only one EHR measure, measure 20, citing three reasons for its decision:
One reason . . . is that we believe it is important to encourage EHR adoption as a means for ACOs to better achieve the goals of the three-part aim[of ACOs], recognizing that some organizations may currently be achieving better quality outcomes using EHRs, even if they are not yet considered “meaningful users,” than organizations that have not yet adopted such technology. To this end, we recognize that first-year Medicaid EHR Incentive Program participants can earn an EHR incentive for adopting, implementing, or upgrading an EHR, and do not need to be “meaningful users” in order to earn an incentive, and would like to include such EHR participants in this measure. A second reason for retaining this measure but not proposed measure 19, percent of all physicians meeting Stage 1 HITECH Meaningful Use Requirements, is that we recognize some ACOs may be comprised of PCPs only. An ACO’s score on proposed measures 19 and 20 would be the same if the ACO is only comprised of PCPs. As a result, the use of both measures could be considered redundant. The third reason for finalizing proposed measure 20 with modification is that it is a structural measure of EHR program participation that is not measured in any other program, and therefore is not duplicative of any existing measures. In addition, CMS can calculate the measure based on data already reported to the EHR Incentive Program, such that no additional reporting would be required by ACOs other than what EPs have already reported. (Emphasis added.)
 The “three-part aim” is defined in the Final Rule as: (1) better care for individuals; (2) better health for populations; and (3) lower growth in Medicare Parts A and B expenditures. (See Final Rule at page 8.)