Leaders from healthcare organizations and associations, lawyers, consultants, IT vendors, and a host of other experts are slogging their way through all 800-plus pages of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services final rule for the meaningful use of electronic health records. They have plenty of opinions about what's right and what's wrong with the rules. And that's fine. But it's also a good idea to think about something more important than what could have or should have been: What happens next?
The long-awaited final rules spell out exactly what hospitals and physicians must do to qualify for their share of a pool of roughly $27 billion in bonus Medicare payments over the next ten years for using electronic health records (EHRs). Eligible professionals can get up to $44,000 under Medicare and $63,750 under Medicaid, and hospitals may receive millions of dollars for implementation and meaningful use of certified EHRs under both Medicare and Medicaid.
Providers and vendors have been playing guessing games on what the final rules would look like and placing bets on when, exactly, the final rule would be announced. Some have predicted it will be an unfunded mandate. Others were skeptical it would ever come to fruition at all.
"There should no longer be any doubt that this program is real," says Charles W. Jarvis, vice president healthcare services and government relations for NextGen Healthcare. "Hospitals should be able to march ahead and make some final decisions."
Leigh Burchell, director of government and industry relations for Allscripts, agrees. "People who were in a wait and see or even wait and understand mode are now trying to understand, because it's real," she says.