CMS disburses almost $23 billion in meaningful use incentives

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' meaningful use program has been criticized heavily in recent months for the amount of extra work it has placed onto the shoulders of medical practices across the country. Despite the shortcomings perceived in the CMS' handling of meaningful use requirements and ICD-10 preparation, however, the agency has not hesitated from handing out incentive payments.

According to figures released by the CMS, the agency has paid out $22.78 billion in meaningful use incentives to qualifying health care professionals and organizations that have satisfied the requirements of electronic health record system implementation. Though industry veterans are still feeling the pressure of meaningful use stage 2 compliance in addition to ICD-10 transition preparation, the CMS' figures are good news for practices worried about lost revenue streams in the future.

Exceeding estimates
The CMS' report, which includes data from the meaningful use program's inception in 2011 to payments made in January 2014, indicated that the agency has paid out slightly more incentives than a 2012 revised estimate of $22.5 billion, Health Data Management reported. The CMS operated under an original 2010 estimate of $27.4 billion, but later brought that mark down to the 2012 prediction.

As Health Data Management explained, practices interested in continuing or beginning to receive meaningful use incentives have until 2016 and 2021 for Medicare and Medicaid payments, respectively.

Working for the money
While physicians and hospitals are undoubtedly pleased that the CMS has not been stingy with incentive payments, the question of the payments' value in regards to the additional work surrounding EHR implementation remains at the forefront of many health care professionals' minds.

Frank Fear, vice president and chief information officer of Memorial Healthcare, told EHRIntelligence that, between work for meaningful use and the fast-approaching Oct. 1 ICD-10 transition, the health care industry is feeling the crunch.

"What the challenge is isn't necessarily the capital dollars – it's the staffing and the operational expense," Fear told EHRIntelligence. "My staff is just exhausted. I mean we're all just continuing. We got through stage 1 meaningful use and getting everybody up on an EHR, and now it's no time to take a break. It's full-court press to meet stage 2 and ICD-10."

Fear also explained the need to juggle federally mandated programs with internal projects that may be more focused on an individualized business plan, though he admitted that the CMS' meaningful use incentives provide plenty of motivation to stay on track with EHR implementation.

"It's a push-pull, and we're asking our people to do more and more," Fear told EHRIntelligence. "It's quite tough to keep all the balls in the air and focus on what the risks are that we need to make sure we're managing effectively when we're going so quickly. But we're all facing this, so I'm not talking about anything new. It's just trying to effectively manage it."

With almost $23 billion paid out to providers, the CMS is doing its part to motivate that kind of effective management.