By Ken Terry:
Total payouts to hospitals and eligible professionals in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs exceeded $5 billion through April of this year. But the number of new registrations among EPs dropped in April for the second month in a row, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
In April, 7,696 EPs registered for the Medicare incentive program, slightly more than the 6,897 who enrolled in March; but the steep drop in Medicaid registrations to 4,592 in April from 7,143 the previous month resulted in an overall decline. The number of new hospital registrants also dipped to 86 from 128.
To date, 3,569 hospitals have registered in either or both of the programs. Among EPs, 156,172 have signed up for the Medicare program, and 78,398 for the Medicaid program. The total number of all registrations is 238,139.
A recent SK&A survey showed that EHR adoption was growing fastest among small practices that have historically been the most resistant to the technology, according to an InformationWeek article. But the adoption rate has nearly leveled off among the largest groups, SK&A said. Moreover, like surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Medical Group Management Association, SK&A found that many physicians who reported having an EHR lacked some of the functionality required to show Meaningful Use in the Medicare incentive program.
Another factor in the lagging enrollment figures may be the sheer pressure of multiple government regulations and incentive/penalty programs. The AMA and some specialty societies recently complained to CMS about this regulatory burden.
After increasing month by month, Medicare payments to EPs crested in February at $223 million; the payout in April was just $159 million. Similarly, hospital payments peaked at nearly $375 million last December; in April, they totaled $116 million. In total, Medicare has paid EPs $953 million and hospitals, $1.735 billion.
A similar pattern is visible in the Medicaid program. Payments to EPs dropped from $135 million in March to $81 million in April. For hospitals, Medicaid payments fell from $183 million in March to $117 million in April. Cumulatively, EPs have reaped nearly $736 million and hospitals, $1.606 billion, from Medicaid.