HHS not yet providing guidance on EHR implementation funds

March 27, 2009

Federal officials are providing little guidance thus far on how physicians can access funds in the $787 billion federal stimulus package to help offset the cost of buying and implementing electronic health record systems.

Federal officials are providing little guidance thus far on how physicians can access funds in the $787 billion federal stimulus package to help offset the cost of buying and implementing electronic health record systems.

 “CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] is starting to plan to make determinations on how the incentives programs are going to operate,” Tony Trenkle, director of the Office of E-Health Standards and Services in the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “As things develop, we will begin to provide answers to questions on our website and through other outreach.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides $19 billion to encourage physicians to use EHRs. The funds would be doled out over five years to practices that purchase EHRs and use them in a “meaningful” way. Early adopters–practices that begin using the systems by 2011 or 2012–could receive up to $44,000 per physician. Practices adopting them in 2013 or 2014 are eligible for up to $39,000 and $24,000, respectively. An additional bonus of 10 percent of the incentive amount is available to doctors practicing in federally designated health professional shortage areas.

Conversely, practices that decline to use EHRs will be penalized in the form of a 1 percent reduction in their Medicare fee schedule in 2015, 2 percent in 2016, and 3 percent in 2017 and every year thereafter.

The legislation requires HHS, through the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, to adopt initial criteria for deciding which practices will be eligible to receive the funds--including questions such as what types of systems will qualify and what constitutes meaningful use--by December 31, 2009.