By Brenda Mooney, Special to AHC Media

WASHINGTON, DC – If you receive a letter from the Medicare program in the next few weeks saying that your practice is being penalized for failing to achieve meaningful use of electronic health record (EHR) technology, you are certainly not alone.

Hundreds of thousands of physicians and other healthcare providers will face losing 1% of their pay next year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

If you find that egregious, you are still in good company.

“The American Medical Association (AMA) is appalled by news from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) today that more than 50% of eligible professionals will face penalties under the Meaningful Use program in 2015, a number that is even worse than we anticipated,” Steven J. Stack, MD, president-elect of the American Medical Association said in December.

The AMA conceded it had supported the original HITECH legislation but said the program has not turned out as expected.

"The Meaningful Use program was intended to increase physician use of technology to help improve care and efficiency,” Stack noted. “Unfortunately, the strict set of one-size-fits-all requirements is failing physicians and their patients. They are hindering participation in the program, forcing physicians to purchase expensive electronic health records with poor usability that disrupts workflow, creates significant frustrations and interferes with patient care, and imposes an administrative burden.”

He pointed out that the AMA has “provided extensive and constructive feedback to the [Obama] Administration to help fix the Meaningful Use program, but few changes have been made. In light of the dismal number of eligible professionals meeting Meaningful Use, we hope that the administration will now move forward with the solutions we put forth in our Blueprint to make the program more successful and better enable physicians to provide quality care for their patients." 

Recommendations included in the AMA's Meaningful Use blueprint include:

 

·         Adopting a more flexible approach for meeting Meaningful Use to allow more physicians to successfully participate;

·         Better aligning quality measure requirements including reducing the reporting burden on physicians and helping relieve them from overlapping penalties;

·         Ensuring quality measures and clinical decision support within the program are current to improve care for patients and ensure physicians are following the latest evidence; and

·         Restructuring EHR certification to focus on key areas like interoperability.

As part of its recommendations to improve the program, the AMA has asked CMS to make optional the objectives physicians are finding most challenging.

 

"The penalties physicians are facing under the Meaningful Use program are part of a regulatory tsunami facing physicians, apart from the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula, that could include cuts from the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), the Value-based Modifier Program (VBM) and the sequester, further destabilizing physician practices and creating a disincentive to see Medicare patients,” said Stack, who cited statistics that only half of eligible physicians participated in PQRS in 2013, meaning many will incur penalties from both the Meaningful Use and PQRS programs.

 At its interim annual meeting in Dallas in November, the AMA House of Delegates adopted a resolution urging CMS to suspend all meaningful use penalties.