Pilot Project Raises Medicare Physician Payments for EHR Use
HHS on Monday announced it is recruiting 1,200 physicians across the U.S. to participate in a pilot project that will provide higher Medicare reimbursements to physicians who use electronic health records, AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the project is an important step toward meeting President Bush's goal of nationwide EHR adoption by 2014.
Under the program, physicians will receive additional Medicare payments for completing certain tasks online, such as ordering prescriptions and recording laboratory test results. Physicians who use the electronic system most often for major tasks and obtain the best scores in an annual evaluation will receive the highest payments. Medicare reimbursements could increase by several thousand dollars for participating physicians, according to AP/Newsday.
Leavitt said that while physicians see the technology as helpful to health insurers and patients, many do not believe the initial costs required to set up the systems is worth the effort. About 10% of physicians nationwide have adopted EHR technology, which costs between $20,000 and $40,000.
Leavitt said that physicians "are saying: 'Look, what's in this for me? My practice is working OK as it is. I need to have some benefit,'" adding, "And they are right."
Officials say the project will not result in increased federal spending because improved care and an increased focus on prevention should cover the initial investment paid to doctors. Federal officials also have asked insurance companies to consider similar payment rate increases for participating physicians (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/29).
In related news, the not-for-profit eHealth Initiative -- a coalition of labor unions, consumer advocates, medical groups and a major health insurer -- has called on members of Congress to pass legislation that would require Medicare physicians to adopt electronic prescribing technology, CongressDaily reports. The group estimated that universal adoption of e-prescribing would save about $27 billion in avoided errors and harmful drug interactions, as well as improved use of treatments. The group did not single out savings to Medicare.
In a letter sent last week to the Senate Finance Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Scott Serota, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, pushed for e-prescribing legislation to be included as part of a 2010 Medicare package that the Finance Committee is drafting, CongressDaily reports. Serota said, "E-prescribing is a powerful tool to eliminate problems with handwriting legibility and to alert providers in real time to potential adverse drug-to-drug interactions and allergic reactions."
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association also have called for increased use of e-prescribing (Edney, CongressDaily, 10/29).