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Could solo practices be exempt from EHR meaningful use penalties?


Solo physicians shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of a meaningful use exemption - yet. The bill, called the EHR Improvements Act, is a long, long way from becoming law.

A recently introduced House bill would exempt solo physician practices from penalties that would be imposed for failing to meet benchmarks associated with electronic health records (EHR) meaningful use requirements.

But solo physicians shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of a meaningful use exemption-yet. The bill, called the EHR Improvements Act, is a long, long way from becoming law. It was introduced last month by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn, and has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, Bloomberg BNA reported.

As of 2015, health providers who fail to meet meaningful use criteria could be hit with 1% penalties to their Medicare reimbursements. Those penalties could climb to as high as 5% of Medicare payments in subsequent years.

The new bill would carve out a "hardship exemption" from those penalties for solo practitioners and physicians nearing retirement. The retirement exemption would apply to physicians who will be eligible for Social Security by 2015.

In a summary of the bill provided to BNA, Black's office noted that meaningful use requirements have the potential to exact a heavy toll on medical practices in terms of time, resources and money. Black's office cited a recent Health Affairs article that estimated that the total first-year costs of an EHR system for a five-physician practice to be $233,297, with average per-physician costs of $46,659.

"This is particularly difficult with smaller practices, and is an unattractive option for physicians in or near retirement that are not as inclined to make a long-term investment in the practice," the summary states.

Not surprisingly, the bill is popular with medical associations and groups, 21 of whom signed a letter to Black that praised the bill for its "common sense reforms," Healthcare IT News reported.

The recently introduced bill contains several other provisions, including one that would create a more formal appeals process for providers who incur penalties and want to contest them.

For physicians, achieving meaningful use involves meeting a number of objectives related to EHRs, such as exchanging health information with other providers, making health information available to patients online and incorporating lab results into patient records.


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