Extension of EHR Safe Harbor? The Ball is Rolling …

clip_image002by Ann F. Triebsch

The anti-kickback “safe harbor” allowing hospitals to donate electronic health record (“EHR”) equipment to physicians who may refer patients to their facility is set to expire on December 31, 2013, but efforts have begun to have the safe harbor extended. The safe harbor, created in 2006, allows hospitals to donate EHR and electronic prescribing technology to practices for the purpose of setting up or improving EHR systems, provided that the practice covers 15% of the cost of the EHR technology, without risk of anti-kickback enforcement. The purpose was to incentivize the meaningful use of EHR systems, and Medicare incentive payments for EHR adoption will continue through 2016.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) sent a letter on March 28 to Greg Demske, chief counsel of the HHS Office of Inspector General, asking OIG to extend the safe harbor provision. He emphasized Washington’s goal of reducing healthcare costs and eliminating wasteful spending, and pointed out that an extension would further that goal. He called the safe harbor provision “a common-sense policy” that “encourages collaboration among providers, yet also contains rigorous requirements that providers must meet in order to protect the Medicare and Medicaid programs from the few unscrupulous providers who would donate electronic health record software in exchange for referrals.” Earlier this year, the Federation of American Hospitals also showed support for renewing the EHR safe harbor.

To read Rep. McDermott’s letter, click here.

To read the Federation of American Hospitals letter, click here.

Stay tuned for further action on an extension.

Final Rules for Stage 2 EHR Incentive Programs Released

First, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the long-awaited final rule to govern Stage 2 of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs. The rule specifies the Stage 2 criteria that eligible professionals (EPs), eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) must meet in order to continue to participate in the EHR Incentive Programs.

  • Click here for the full text of CMS’s final rule.
  • Click here to see the fact sheet on CMS’s final rule.

Second,  the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) also announced a related final rule, which specifies the technical capabilities and related standards and implementation specifications that Certified EHR Technology will need to include to support the achievement of meaningful use by EPs, eligible hospitals, and CAHs under the EHR Incentive Programs.

  • Click here for the full text of the ONC rule.
  • Click here  to read a fact sheet on ONC’s standards and certification criteria final rule.

Stay tuned.  We will be posting more about these final rules in the days to come.

Early Meaningful Users Promised Stage 2 Extension

On November 30, 2011, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a press release announcing proposed steps to encourage physicians and hospitals to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) this year and receive incentive payments made available under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act), which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). 

Under the HITECH Act, physicians and hospitals have the opportunity to earn financial incentives from Medicare and Medicaid if they demonstrate the adoption and meaningful use of certified EHRs in a series of three stages. Under the current rules, physicians and hospitals that adopt EHRs in 2011 and attest to meeting Stage 1 meaningful use standards by February 28, 2012 must meet Stage 2 standards in 2013. If they wait until 2012 to attest to Stage 1, providers could delay Stage 2 compliance until 2014. To encourage more providers to adopt EHRs in 2011, instead of waiting until 2012, HHS proposes to allow providers who qualify for Stage 1 meaningful use in 2011 an extension until 2014 to meet Stage 2 standards. HHS clarified that providers first attesting to meaningful use in 2011 qualify for both 2011 and 2012 incentive payments.

These proposed steps are consistent with June 2011 recommendations from the Health IT Policy Committee (HITPC).  As we reported this summer, HITPC advocated that providers who begin to attest to meaningful use in 2011 be provided an extra year “to phase in the stage 2 expectations (i.e., Stage 2 for those who attest in 2011 would begin in 2014).”  HHS listened!

HHS intends to publish this extension in the Stage 2 meaningful use Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in February 2012.

At the same time, HHS also released new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing increased adoption of EHRs by physicians.  The CDC report documented that physicians’ adoption of health information technology (IT) doubled in two years, and 52% of physicians intend to apply for meaningful use incentives, up from 41% in 2010.  Click here to access additional information about achieving meaningful use, including the CDC report.

HHS Releases Proposed EHR “Meaningful Use” Standards

By 2014, hospitals and physicians whom Medicare reimburses for services and items will need to have adopted an electronic health record (EHR) according to rules promulgated under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) or risk reductions in their Medicare reimbursement. On December 30, 2009, the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), released their respective proposed rules for qualifying for EHR stimulus funds under HITECH: The “meaningful use” and “certified” EHR standards. 

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HIT Policy Committee Workgroup Releases Second Draft of “Meaningful Use”

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, the HIT Policy Committee presented its revised recommendation on the “meaningful use” definition. At the end of this meeting, the HIT Policy Committee forwarded its recommendation on the “meaningful use” definition to the Office of National Coordinator per the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH Act”). The revised meaningful use matrix, 2011 Draft Quality Measures and other materials presented or discussed during the MU meeting on July 16, 2009 are available on the HIT Policy Committee webpage.

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