Meaningful Use FAQ: Taking Advantage of The Medicare EHR Incentive Program


Medical Market Analyst, Software Advice

Are you ready to claim your share of the $17.2 billion in Medicare stimulus money by implementing an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system in your practice? The deadline to begin your 90-day EHR reporting period to qualify for the incentive is October 3, 2012–and it can take a few months to get ramped up on a new system. To give you a boost, here are some quick answers to frequently-asked questions regarding the Medicare EHR Incentive Program.

1. Why is there an incentive?

The U.S. Government wants to encourage physicians to adopt EHR (also called Electronic Medical Record, or EMR) technologies. To do so, it has allocated funds to help physicians defray the cost of these systems. However, there are restrictions: only certain medical professionals are eligible (see question 2); physicians must demonstrate “meaningful use” of the systems (question 3); and only certified systems are eligible (question 5).

2. Who is eligible for the incentive?

Medical physicians and osteopaths, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, ophthalmologists and chiropractors all qualify for the incentive. Eligible professionals only qualify if at least 90% of their patients are not in a hospital. For more information, see the Eligible Professional Overview.

3. What is "meaningful use," and how do I know if I meet the qualifications?

Before dispensing incentive funds, the government wants to verify that eligible medical professionals are actively using EHR technology, not just purchasing it to avoid penalties. There is a list of minimum of criterion that medical professionals must meet to prove they will “meaningfully use” certain features of their EHRs. These requirements specify that an EHR must support 10 mandatory features, in addition to five optional features out of a list of 10. Medical practitioners must be actively using these features on their EHR for at least 90 days to meet government requirements for the incentive.

4. How much money can I receive for attesting meaningful use for my practice?

Each physician can collect up to $44,000 over a five-year period. A practice with four physicians can collect up to $176,000, and so on. Check the CMS Government website for more details on payment information. Most physicians will get their check within 45 days after attestation of meaningful use.

5. How can I find out which EHRs are certified?

Only certified EHRs that meet “meaningful use” standards qualify for the subsidy. Software Advice can help you choose the right EHR for your practice, at no cost to you. Here’s a list of certified EHR systems to help you get started.

6. How do I register for the EHR incentive program?

You can register your practice on the government's EHR Incentives page. If you run into any trouble, this detailed step-by-step guide by Mary Pat Whaley at Manage My Practice does a great job at breaking down the registration and attestation process along with everything you’ll need to fill out the forms.

7. What if I choose not to purchase an EHR?

Eligible professionals who choose not to purchase a certified EHR will not only forego thousands in incentive payments, but will also incur penalties. Starting in 2015, offices not using a certified EHR will have Medicare and Medicaid payments withheld at the rate of 1% in 2015, 2% in 2016, and 3% in 2017, with a maximum reduction of 5% by 2020.

Hopefully this helps answer any questions you may have had regarding how to qualify for the EHR stimulus. If you have questions, please ask them in the comments. If you found this post valuable, please share it with others who can benefit.

Thumbnail image created by Don Hankins.

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