CMS releases new payment updates for MU penalties

The latest financial figures for meaningful use penalties and incentives were released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at the recent meeting of the Health IT Policy Committee. Although most of the payment adjustments are exact, the CMS noted that the numbers referring to Medicare adjustments are merely estimates. 

Estimations have EPs paying $20 million in penalties
Many health care organizations wondered why the Medicare payment adjustments were published if they were not exact. Elisabeth Myers of the Office of eHealth Standards and Services at CMS explained that the release of the estimated figures for eligible professionals was requested by the Health IT Policy Committee and that they were determined by historical claims volumes.

"I do want to make it very, very clear that these are estimates, which is why they are very pretty round numbers," Myers told the committee at the meeting. "The reason that these are estimates is that the payment adjustment is not a flat amount – it is a percentage and it is a percentage of the claims that are submitted for Medicare services during 2015."

The majority of eligible providers are expected to see the lowest payment adjustments. The figures show that approximately 34 percent of eligible providers, a total of 87,000 of the 256,000 providers subject to penalties, will experience a Medicare payment adjustment somewhere between $1 and $250. Roughly 78,000, or 31 percent, will see adjustments of at least $2,000, and 55,000 will pay between $250 and $1,000. The smallest portion of providers, around 36,000, will be responsible for paying between $1,000 and $2,000.

The CMS asked that providers submit an application for reconsideration by the end of February when it first revealed the number of eligible providers who would see 2015 Medicare payment adjustments in late December of last year.

New payments update alarms AMA
By the end of 2014, the total amount of EHR incentive payments had increased to $28.1 billion. According to EHR Intelligence, Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible providers received $6.8 billion and $3.4 billion, respectively, while eligible hospitals are responsible for $17.4 billion in payments. 

According to Medscape, last year when the CMS announced that 257,000 eligible professionals would be penalized by Medicare for failing to attest to meaningful use, the majority of members within the health care industry were furious. The American Medical Society called for the penalties to be eliminated. The AMA had a similar reaction to the latest figures.

"The AMA is alarmed … that more than three-quarters of eligible professionals still have been unable to attest to Meaningful Use," the AMA's president-elect Steven Stack said in a statement. "The program's one-size-fits-all approach, that has not been proven to improve quality, has made it difficult for physicians to take part." Stack explained that these large penalties providers are burdened with conflict with the goals of the program. The money that physicians use to pay off these fines could go toward an investment in enhanced technologies and alternative care models to improve quality.

The number of providers who attested to stage 2 meaningful use increased from 16,359 to 36,782, with 71,519 providers scheduled to attest. 

Most experts were not surprised to see that the meaningful use attestation figures for eligible hospitals remained the same as the previous month. Although 2,389 hospitals are scheduled to attest to the stage 2 program for at least the third year in a row, the attestation waiting period is currently closed.

As the CMS recently revealed, it will be working on creating a new rulemaking for meaningful use 2015 with the goal of shortening this year's reporting period, reducing the complexity of several aspects of the program and coordinating hospital reporting with the calendar year. This new rulemaking is likely to alter these figures.