Has MU Been Useful? A Review of MU and Merit-Based Incentives – Breakaway Thinking

Posted on March 16, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lori Balstad, Learning and Development Specialist at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Lori Balstad
Is it really the end of Meaningful Use? According to Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), it’s time for a change in incentive programs and 2016 may be the year for it. Alternative Payment Models and Merit-based Incentive Payments (MIPS) as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) may be replacing the complicated layers of requirements in Stage 1, 2, and 3 of Meaningful Use.

While CMS works on rolling out a new set of regulations, you may be wondering if this will ease the lingering pain of the past years. Will the program be easier to understand, navigate, and comply with?

First, let’s do a quick review:

CMS’s Meaningful Use Incentive program was rolled out in 2011 to incentivize eligible professionals and hospitals to adopt electronic health records (EHRs).

The goal was three-fold:

  • Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities
  • Increase patient engagement and satisfaction
  • Improve care coordination, and population and public health

Stage 1 dealt with data capture and sharing, Stage 2 focused on advance clinical processes, and Stage 3 was to bring us to improving healthcare outcomes.

Achieving these goals is not an easy or quick process, but there have been many noteworthy accomplishments. As of 2015, 95 percent of all eligible and critical access hospitals have demonstrated meaningful use of certified health IT through participation in the CMS EHR Incentive Programs. Ninety-eight percent of all hospitals have demonstrated meaningful use and/or adopted, implemented or upgraded any EHR. As of January 2016, more than 484,000 health care providers received payment for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, according to the CMS.

There have also been bumps along the way. Clinical quality reporting is controversial due to unrefined standards and a lack of a comprehensive strategy around the measures. Providers struggle to balance healthcare reform efforts with patient engagement and education under Stage 2. Eligibility determination issues in the CMS website threatened some physicians and other eligible professionals with Medicare payment penalties in 2015. Physicians are at the point where the regulations are so difficult that they feel like they are unable to focus on patient care.

So what’s next?

CMS has been working closely with physicians and healthcare organizations to address their needs and concerns, and plans to share the new regulations this spring under MACRA. They will work towards keeping the original ideologies while establishing new critical principles. The most important improvement will be moving away from incentivizing providers for the mere use of the technology towards the actual outcomes achieved with their patients. Other goals include allowing for flexibility to customize health IT to ensure physicians are supported instead of distracted.

Meaningful Use is not going away, just the way it’s measured and incentivized. Moving toward quality outcomes instead of measuring technology adoption levels will hopefully move us closer to the original goals of Meaningful Use. It all comes back to what physicians and healthcare organizations do on a daily basis – strive to provide the best possible care for patients.

Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts. The Breakaway Group is a leader in EHR and Health IT training.