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More than 700 ODs receive $18k EHR incentive bonuses

March 31, 2012

 The Medicare Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program during 2011 issued payments to some 701 optometrists – all of whom received the maximum $18,000 incentive available during the first year of the program, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

That means optometrists have already received some $12.6 million in EHR incentives through the program, according to the CMS and ONC.

And that is probably just the beginning, AOA Advocacy Group Director Jon Hymes noted.

In all, some 1,238 optometrists actually attested compliance with Medicare EHR utilization criteria and qualified for incentive payments during 2011, according to the CMS and ONC.

However, over the first 12 months of the EHR program, the CMS issued incentive payments only to health care practitioners who were known to have reached a threshold of $24,000 in total Medicare allowable charges for the year, thereby qualifying for a maximum $18,000 EHR incentive. 

Late last year, the CMS announced a two-month “grace period” (that ended Feb. 29) to give health care practitioners more time to report they met Medicare EHR program standards during 2011 as well as more time to file claims used in computing bonuses.

As a result, both the total number of optometrists qualifying for 2011 Medicare EHR incentives and the average amount of the payments they receive could increase notably, Hymes observed.

The CMS/ONC data indicates more than half (638) of the optometrists who qualified for EHR incentives during 2011, did so during the last month of the year. Some close to the EHR industry believe a like number of optometrists may have filed for EHR incentives in a similar “last-minute rush” during the January-February grace period.

The CMS is scheduled to release a year-end report with final totals for the 2011 Medicare EHR Incentive Program in the coming weeks.

All practitioners who qualified for EHR incentives during 2011 will receive payment no later than April, according to the CMS.

Like earlier CMS data (see AOA News, February), figures released last month for the first full year of the Medicare EHR Incentive Program show only a handful of, generally, much larger health care professions have seen more practitioners qualify for Medicare EHR incentives than optometry. 

Optometrists are among the top half-dozen health care specialties in terms of successful EHR utilization – and easily the leaders in eye care. Optometrists continue to qualify for Medicare EHR incentives at roughly twice the rate of ophthalmologists, the new data show.

“This is wonderful news,” said AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D. “It means that optometrists are acting quickly and implementing EHRs while they can still realize the maximum benefits from the incentive program.”

Under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2011, health care practitioners can earn up to a total of $44,000 ($48,400 in federally designated health professional shortage areas) over the six-year life of the program if they install EHR systems that are certified for use under the program and achieve compliance with the program’s EHR utilization criteria, known as “meaningful use” standards.

Practitioners who entered the program during 2011 or enter during 2012 can earn up to $18,000 during their first year of participation.  

During those calendar years, incentive payments for first-time participants are based on 75 percent of the participant’s total Medicare allowed charges for the year, up to a billing threshold of $24,000. 

Maximum first-time incentive payments for those entering the program during the period 2013-2015 will be reduced substantially each year.

Practitioners will not be allowed to enter the incentive program after 2015.
 For additional information on the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, see the AOA website EHR page (www.aoa.org/ehr).

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