The Time Has Finally Come for MU, It Really Is Now or Never

Posted on March 27, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Lea Chatham.
Lea Chatham

The healthcare industry has been talking about Meaningful Use (MU) for years now. The program started in 2011, but there were discussions and planning going on years before that. It’s become a ubiquitous topic in healthcare publications and blogs. So much so that many providers probably still think that they have time to decide if they are really going to attest or not.

The truth is that 2014 is last year to initiate participation for Medicare to receive incentive payments. To avoid the first adjustment of 1%, providers must attest for Stage 1, Year 1 no later than the third quarter of 2014 (July 1 – September 30, 2014). You can still start MU in future years to avoid additional penalties, but you won’t get any incentives and you will still have the 1% deduction on your Medicare Part B Claims starting in 2015. That penalty doesn’t go away if you start MU in 2015 or 2016.

What this means is that the estimated 40% of America’s physicians who don’t’ have an EHR and haven’t yet begun to attest for MU have a decision to make—now. And there are essentially three options:

  1. Choose an EHR and attest in 2014
  2. Accept the penalty (which increases each year)
  3. Request a hardship exception.

Here is what you need to know about each of these options so you can make the right choice for your practice.

Choose an EHR & Attest

Over $16 billion in incentives has been paid out to providers who have been attesting for MU. If you start in 2014, you’ll still get $24,000 over three years for your efforts. You’ll also avoid the penalties, which start with 1% in 2015 and increase each year for a minimum of three years. The larger your Medicare pool of patients, the more sense this makes financially.

If you are going to adopt an EHR now, be sure to choose the right solution for your needs. Many of the providers who have not yet implemented an EHR, are small practices (10 or fewer providers). According to a survey conducted in January by SK&A, the smaller the practice, the lower the adoption rate. Small, independent practices don’t have staff, time, or money to waste. So it has to be right the first time. Take these factors into consideration:

  1. Cost: There are now free and low cost EHRs that can offer almost any specialty the tools they need to reap the benefits of an EHR.
  2. Cloud-based and Mobile: Its 2014, don’t choose an EHR unless it offers anytime, anywhere access and true mobile connectivity.
  3. 2014 Edition Certified for MU: As of January 1, 2014, you need a 2014 Edition certified EHR to attest for MU. Only about 12% of complete EHRs have this certification, which narrows the field.
  4. Total Integration: You can get more from your EHR if it is fully integrated with your practice management and billing system. You can meet MU and streamline many other functions. As a bonus it can actually increase both charges and collections. A UBM white paper showed that the average increase in revenue was $33,000 per FTE provider per year!

Accept the Penalty

So you are thinking you’ll just take the penalty. This may be because you don’t serve Medicare patients or at least not that many. It could also be that you are planning to retire soon and don’t think you’ll be around in another couple of years. But consider this, with MU, PQRS, and eRx penalties, it reaches over 10% in total adjustments to your Medicare Part B claims in five years. If you do start seeing more Medicare patients (as your patients age) or you don’t retire, 10% is nothing to sneeze at. If you are a solo doc and you generate an average of $30,000 a month and about 30% of your patients have Medicare, that’s $10,000 a month. A 10% cut adds up to $12,000 a year. To make that up, you would have to conduct about 100-120 more patient visits a year (if your average visit reimbursement is around $100-150).

And here is something else to consider. Perhaps you are willing to take that hit, and you are sure that you don’t want to attest for MU. But does that mean you don’t need to implement an EHR? Not these days. Patient expectations are changing, and to stay competitive you need to meet those expectations. A study conducted by the Optum Institute showed that 62% of patients want to correspond with their physician online and 75% are willing to view their medical records online. Another survey conducted by Deloitte showed that two-thirds of patient would consider switching to a physician who offers secure access to medical records online. You need patients to stay in business so take their changing needs seriously or you may struggle to stay competitive in changing times.

Request a Hardship Exception

The first thing that needs to be said here is that not everyone can apply for a hardship exception. If you’d like to attest for MU, but need more time AND you meet one or more of the criteria, then you should definitely consider this option. This is a summary, check the CMS tipsheet to find out more:

  1. Your area lacks the necessary infrastructure (i.e., no broadband)
  2. You’re a new provider
  3. Natural disaster or other unforeseen barrier
  4. Lack of face-to-face interaction with patients
  5. Practice in multiple locations
  6. EHR vendor issues (i.e., your current vendor was unable to certify for 2014 edition)

For most providers who are practicing full time in a single location and have not yet chosen an EHR, these exceptions won’t apply. This leaves you with choices and one and two above. You will still need to decide if you want to attest or not.

If you are still on the fence, consider this… Beyond MU, practices are facing the ICD-10 transition and a changing reimbursement landscape with ongoing reform from of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Technology can be a very effective tool to help you manage these changes and turn this set of challenges into an opportunity to optimize your practice and position your business for success no matter what comes your way.


About Lea Chatham

Lea Chatham is the Content Expert at Kareo, responsible for developing educational resources to help small medical practices improve their businesses. She joined Kareo after working at a small integrated health system for over five years developing marketing and educational tools and events for patients. Prior to that, Lea was a marketing coordinator for Medical Manager Health Systems, WebMD Practice Services, Emdeon, and Sage Software. She specializes in simplifying information about healthcare and healthcare technology for physicians, practice staff, and patients.