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ODs earn $21 million in Medicare EHR incentives

May 21, 2012

Optometrists earned more than $21 million in top-level bonuses during the first year of the Medicare Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program, according to the latest in a series of monthly reports from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Since the EHR incentive program was launched on Jan. 3, 2011, some 6,389 optometrists have registered to participate, according to the CMS.

Preliminary data for 2011 show the CMS had issued $21,546,000 in EHR incentives to 1,197 optometrists – all of whom received the program’s maximum $18,000 first-year payment – by the end of an extended reporting period that closed Feb. 29, 2012.

However, the report suggests the CMS may not finish issuing 2011 incentive payments until sometime this month and many optometrists around the nation may still have payments coming, according to the AOA Advocacy Group.

“America’s practicing optometrists should be commended for their leadership in the implementation and use of electronic health records,” said AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D. “Over the past three years, the AOA and its affiliated state optometric associations, through the EHR Preparedness Program for Optometry, have worked hard to provide optometrists with the information they need to find appropriate EHR systems, master the steps necessary to meet government standards for the ‘meaningful use’ of EHRs in patient care, and qualify for EHR incentive program bonuses. Thousands of optometrists are responding in a timely fashion to take advantage of an opportunity that will benefit their patients and their practices.”

Optometrists were nearly excluded from the Medicare EHR incentive program, Dr. Carlson added. Lawmakers amended the program at the last minute as the result of an extensive lobbying effort by the AOA Advocacy Group.

That is ironic, Dr. Carlson feels, in light of the interest optometrists have since shown in EHRs and the program.

Overall, optometrists rank seventh among physician specialties in both the number of practitioners earning incentives and the total dollar amount of incentives received, Dr. Carlson noted.

They also continue to be the leaders in EHR utilization among eye care practitioners. The CMS report finds 690 ophthalmologists have qualified for Medicare EHR incentives to date.

Statistics released by the CMS do not include optometrists enrolled in Medicaid EHR Incentive programs, Dr. Carlson noted. Optometrists can now qualify for Medicaid EHR incentives in at least five states (see AOA News, April).

The CMS appears to be issuing Medicare EHR incentives first to practitioners who are known to have qualified for the program’s maximum $18,000 payment, Dr. Carlson noted.

The Medicare EHR incentive program rewards practitioners with bonus payments equaling 75 percent of their total Medicare fee-for-service allowed charges for the year, up to a cap of $24,000.

Agency officials are apparently waiting to make sure they have a complete tally of a qualifying practitioner’s Medicare allowed charges for the year before issuing an incentive payment, the AOA Advocacy Group noted.

The CMS was expected to begin issuing incentive payments below the $18,000 maximum in March, according to AOA Advocacy Group staff.

Practitioners began applying for incentive payments on April 1, 2011 – a process that involves attesting compliance with designated EHR utilization standards. The CMS issued the first Medicare EHR incentive payments in May of last year.

Anticipating a year-end rush of late EHR incentive applications, the CMS last fall extended its 2011 attestation deadline by two months.

The CMS reported 701 optometrists qualified for Medicare EHR incentives during calendar year 2011 (see AOA News, March), meaning almost 500 more qualified for incentives during January and February of this year.

Some 572 optometrists were issued a total of $10,296,000 during February alone, according to the CMS report.

AOA members can find extensive information on the Medicare EHR Incentive Program, including a link to the latest CMS program participation report, on the AOA website EHR page (www.aoa.org/ehr).

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