There may soon be one more incentive for hospitals and physician offices to buy and install electronic health-record systems on or before 2011. The added push could come from the prospect of increasingly higher thresholds of initial federal eligibility requirements for EHR subsidies under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to discussions at Tuesday's meeting of the Health Information Technology Policy Committee.
A work group of that committee delivered its first draft of recommended definitions of " meaningful use" of EHRs, a standard that providers must meet to qualify for subsidy payments estimated at $34 billion to be handed out by Medicare and Medicaid. The work group recommended instituting a series of increasingly complex meaningful-use requirements between 2011, the first "payment year" of the subsidy program, and 2015, the final year payments will be made before financial penalties for not adopting begin.
During those discussions, Anthony Trenkle, director of the CMS' office of e-Health Standards and Services, said the requirements will not be "tiered" based on when the provider adopts an EHR after 2011. Instead, whatever meaningful use standards are applicable for the year the provider applies for an EHR subsidy are the standards that provider must meet, regardless of whether it is the provider's first year of EHR implementation.
A 10-day public comment period is now open on the work group's initial recommendations. Trenkle said the CMS hopes to have a final definition of "meaningful use" to put out for a 60-day comment period later this year, with final rulemaking not expected until early next year.