Regional Extension Centers (Finally) Help Docs Get Incentives

Posted on August 3, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

For a while there, it seemed like the RECs didn’t have their act together, particularly when it came to reaching out to and closing the deal with doctors. Getting the right person on the phone wasn’t that easy, in fact. Well, times change. A new report suggests that the RECs have gotten on top of things.

The new study, which was issued by the General Accounting Office, concludes that healthcare providers who partnered with a REC — a step which involves a modest fee — were more than twice as likely to get an incentive payment under the Medicare incentive program.  The data in the report comes from 2011, and drew on varied government sources.

On a related note, the GAO reported that 2,802 hospitals and 141,649 professionals registered for the Medicare incentive program last year. Of that group 761 hospitals and 56,585 professionals got incentive payments through Medicare.

The agency also took a look at which types of hospital were more likely to get the Medicare incentive, and got some unsurprising results (summary courtesy of EMR Daily News):

Critical access hospitals were less than half as likely to earn incentives as acute care hospitals.

Hospitals in the top third of size (measured by number of beds) were 2.4 times more likely than hospitals in the bottom third to earn an incentive payment.

Nonprofit and for-profit hospitals were 1.1 and 1.5 times more likely than government-owned hospitals, respectively, to receive an incentive payment.

Only one in ten (12.2 percent) of eligible rural hospitals were awarded Medicare EHR incentive payments.

Taken as a whole, I  see this as a “good news/bad news” situation. One the one hand we have the welcome news that the REC program is actually delivering on its promise, something I imagine we’re all glad to see.

On the other, the critical access/rural hospital numbers are simply unacceptable. There’s no reason that people in these hospitals would be any less capable of meeting Meaningful Use standards, but they lack the staff and capital needed to push their efforts along. Ultimately, this could lead to a major disparity in care for Americans living in remote areas.

I’m not sure what the answer is here — other than perhaps a FAT load of grants for such hospitals helping them with MU efforts — but something has to be done.  I’m pretty sure that “the rich hospitals get richer” wasn’t HHS’s intent for MU.