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Inspector General Says CMS Made $729 Million In Questionable EHR Incentive Payments

Posted on June 16, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new report from the HHS Office of Inspector General has concluded that over a three-year period, CMS made roughly $729.4 million in EHR incentive payments to providers who didn’t comply with program requirements.

To determine whether the incentive program was functioning appropriately, the OIG audited payments made between May 2011 to June 2014.

After sampling payment records for 100 eligible professionals, the agency found 14 EPs, who received payments totaling $291,022, who didn’t meet incentive criteria.  The auditors found that the 14 had either failed to meet bonus criteria or didn’t provide proof that they had.

Then, the OIG used the data to extrapolate how much CMS had spent on invalid payments, which is how it arrived at the $729 million estimate. In other words, given the margin of error across the sampled incentive payments, the OIG assumed that 12% of all incentive payments were in error. (The analysis also concluded that CMS mistakenly paid $2.3 million to EPs switching between Medicare and Medicaid programs.)

Not surprisingly, the OIG has recommended that CMS recover the $291,000 in payments made to the sampled providers. It also suggested that the agency review EP payments issued during the audit period to see what other errors were made. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get back the approximately $729.4 million the agency may have paid out in error.

In addition, the OIG  called on CMS to review a random sample of self-attested documentation from after the audit period, to determine whether additional inappropriate payments were made to EPs.

And to make sure the EPs don’t get payments under both Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs for the same program year, the report urged CMS to conduct edits of the National Level Depository system.

As part of this report, the OIG noted that allowing providers to self-report compliance data leaves the incentive payment program open to fraud, and recommended keeping a closer eye on these reports. CMS seems to have had at least some sympathy for this argument, as it apparently agreed partly or fully with all of the OIG’s suggested actions.

One side effect of the OIG report it brings back attention to the Meaningful Use program, which has been eclipsed by MACRA but still clings to life. Eligible providers can still report either Modified Stage 2 or Stage 3 in 2017, the main difference being you need a full year of data for Stage 2 but only 90 days for Stage 3.

But MACRA does change things, as its performance standards will test providers in new ways. This year, providers have a chance to get situated with either the MIPS or APM track, and those who jump in now are likely to benefit.

Meanwhile, the future of Meaningful Use remains fuzzy. To my knowledge, the agency has no immediate plans to restructure the current incentive program to audit provider reports in depth. In fact, given that providers are more concerned about MACRA these days, I doubt CMS will bother.

That being said, it’s fair to assume that incentive payouts will get a bit more attention going forward. So be prepared to defend your attestation if need be.

Great Meaningful Use and Eligible Providers Chat

Posted on April 29, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently received an email from a regular reader, Dr. Mike, who owns a single specialty ortho group. In the email Dr. Mike talks about the challenges that Eligible Providers (EPs) are facing with meaningful use stage 2. He describes the story as falling on “deaf ears” at CMS and ONC. He also offered these stats on meaningful use to illustrate his case that meaningful use is a failure:

Only 38,472 have attested to Stage 2, My guess is that only about half actually did Stage 2 as there was the Stage 1 reprieve. Even so, that is only 18% of EPs have successfully attested which is an complete failure of MU.

Then, he asked me an important question:

Someone ask CMS and ONC the tough questions please…Now what are they going to do?

In response to him, I told him that I’d been talking about the challenge that meaningful use is for doctors for quite a while. However, I also told him that most hospitals are participating in meaningful use, so “we’ll see how that plays out.” What I meant is that in the meaningful use program we now have one group (EPs) that are not doing so well with meaningful use and their hospital counterparts that are relying on the millions in EHR incentive money (not to mention avoiding the penalties).

Then I answered his important question, “I can tell you what ONC and CMS are going to do. Spin It!”

Of course, Dr. Mike is great at engaging in conversation so he offered this reply:

1. Elizabeth Myers and the rest of CMS and ONC really did try to spin every bad number and “we cannot assess the numbers yet” was a constant theme.
2. I totally agree they will continue to try to spin the numbers or ignore them as long as possible. I’m not sure why they cannot face the truth about MU.
3. The 36K that did MU 2 are the cream of the crop. I would even argue that the other 82% are the cream also as they were the early adopters and gung ho about MU. The fact that 82% of the over achieving EPs have skipped out on MU 2 is a travesty. There is NO chance ONC and CMS is going to pull in the lagging EPs.
4. If you don’t know already, I own a single specialty Ortho group and we skipped MU completely after we saw the MU 2 rules. Proposed MU 3 just help us box it up and bury it.

I have no idea why ONC and CMS cannot let go of the program, let EHR vendors actually work with EPs for all the thing we are missing from our IT (usability, safety, security, efficiency). Right now we cannot do anything to customize our workflow or improve our experience as it will potentially decertify the EHR for MU. MU sucks all the air out of the room. EHRs right now are a billing and click box for MU system with a marginal clinical system slapped on…

Its about time ONC lets the market do its thing, instead of this constant objective, measures, menu, core, numerators, denominators, attesting, auditing disaster they created.

Once EPs leave the program, they are not coming back. So this should be a big deal for ONC and CMS.

I haven’t gone in and fact checked his numbers (I’d love to hear if you have different numbers), but the emotion in his comments is something I’ve heard from many providers. In fact, I’ve heard it from many EHR vendors. They’re tired of coding their EHR software to the test and the government regulations as well. They want to do more innovative things, but the government regulations are stifling their ability to do it. Resources only go so far.

I think we’re in the early days of provider discontent with meaningful use. However, it’s starting to boil. I’ll be interested to see what happens when it boils over. I’m predicting that will happen once many of these doctors start seeing the penalties hit their pocketbooks.

Medicaid EHR Incentive Attestation with Multiple Practices – Meaningful Use Monday

Posted on June 18, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


Jessica Shenfeld, Esq. is the founding partner at The Law Office of Jessica Shenfeld, a boutique law firm that caters to physicians’ legal needs. She is also CEO of EHR Incentive Help, Inc., which helps physicians satisfy the Meaningful Use criteria and apply for the Medicare/Medicaid EHR Incentive benefits. For more information, visit www.jessicashenfeld.com.

A reader of this blog, a physician who worked throughout 2011 in one practice, dissolved her practice in November 2011, and immediately opened a new practice with a new Group NPI (National Provider Identifier) number the same month, November 2011. She now wants to qualify for the Medicaid EHR Incentive in 2012, but was told that she cannot do so using data from 2011 because the new practice only has two qualifying months in 2011 (November and December) and the first practice’s data is mute because it was dissolved. The issues boil down to two questions:
1) Can a closed practice’s data be used during Attestation or is the date mute?
2) Can an individual physician use patients from two different practices to satisfy the Medicaid Patient Volume requirement?

The technical answer to the first question is not straightforward – it depends on what your state says. While Medicaid is a federal program, each state is responsible for administering it and each state makes its own rules for eligibility that vary slightly. The threshold issue here is whether the applicant qualifies an Eligible Professional (“EP). Once the applicant is accepted as an EP, the state has vetted his/her eligibility and that EP’s patient data from the last calendar year can be used during Attestation. In New York, the provider described above would qualify as an Eligible Professional since continues to accept Medicaid patients. However, the final decision as to whether an individual qualifies as an EP is up to each state to decide. EP Eligibility is determined when Registration for the EHR Incentive is submitted. I recommend e-mailing your individual state representative for that answer, or just submitting the Registration and seeing whether it is accepted. Upon Registration, the physician is notified whether he or she was deemed an EP.

The answer to the second question – whether an individual physician can use patients from two different practices to satisfy the Medicaid Patient Volume requirement – is no. A provider cannot attest using two group NPI numbers. The Medicaid Patient Volume requirement imposes a threshold of 30%, calculated using a ratio where the numerator is the total number of Medicaid patient encounters over a continuous 90-day period in the most recent calendar year and the denominator is all the patient encounters over that same 90-day period. Luckily, all is not lost. Although in this case the provider cannot attest using the group’s aggregate patient volume, she has the option of attesting using her individual provider’s patient volume. When reporting on her individual data, the 90-day period can consist of 90 days from the first practice, or 90 days that span across both practices if there was no break in time between the two practices.

One final point – even if a provider applying for the Medicaid EHR Incentive is not deemed an EP in 2012, that provider can delay Registration to as late as 2016 without incurring any reduction in the incentive payment. Conversely, applicants for the Medicare EHR Incentive payment must attest by 2013 using data from a 90-day period in 2012 in order to receive the full benefit.

MU Core Measure: Conduct a Security Risk Analysis – Meaningful Use Monday

Posted on May 21, 2012 I Written By

Lynn Scheps is Vice President, Government Affairs at EHR vendor SRSsoft. In this role, Lynn has been a Voice of Physicians and SRSsoft users in Washington during the formulation of the meaningful use criteria. Lynn is currently working to assist SRSsoft users interested in showing meaningful use and receiving the EHR incentive money.

Lynn Scheps is Vice President, Government Affairs at EHR vendor SRSsoft. In this role, Lynn has been a Voice of Physicians and SRSsoft users in Washington during the formulation of the meaningful use criteria. Lynn is currently working to assist SRSsoft users interested in showing meaningful use and receiving the EHR incentive money. Check out Lynn’s previous Meaningful Use Monday posts.

Perhaps because in the past, CMS has issued little guidance as to exactly what constitutes a security risk analysis for meaningful use purposes, this measure has created a great deal of confusion, and in some cases angst, among providers. Some EPs worry that this measure is so comprehensive that it requires hiring a consultant, while at the other end of the spectrum, others assume that they automatically satisfy this requirement because their EHR is certified to meet the privacy and security standards specified by ONC. Neither is the case. 

Core Meaningful Use Measure: Protect Electronic Health Information

Conduct or review a security risk analysis in accordance with the requirements under 45 CFR 164.308(a)(1) and implement security updates as necessary and correct identified security deficiencies prior to or during the reporting period. 

According to CMS, this measure is not designed to introduce new security requirements above and beyond what is required for a practice to be HIPAA compliant—the HIPAA security rule already demands a security analysis and remediation. However, this does not mean that EPs should just attest “Yes” without being able to back up their attestation with documentation of the process that was undertaken and the steps take to address deficiencies. 

To help clarify this for providers, ONC recently published the “Guide to Privacy and Security of Health Information,” which contains two chapters that specifically address meaningful use. It’s definitely worth a read!