Physician Legislator Looking Out for Early Adopters of EHRs

August 3, 2010

A physician member of the House of Representatives thinks that early adopters of EHRs should get incentive payments if their systems meet the government’s “meaningful use” criteria, but aren’t yet certified.

A physician member of the House of Representatives thinks that early adopters of EHRs should get incentive payments if their systems meet the government’s “meaningful use” criteria, but aren’t yet certified.

Rep. Michal Burgess, MD (R-Texas) has introduced HR 6005, better known as the “Ensuring Equality for Early EHR Adoption Act of 2010.” The goal of the bill, according to several media reports, is to make Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments available in 2011 and 2012 for early adopters of EHRs whose systems have not been certified by the federal government as meeting its expectations for use. The Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) is one such group certifying EHRs under a temporary rule through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

The AHA supports the bill by Burgess, an OB/GYN for nearly 30 years prior to his election to Congress. In a letter to the congressman, the AHA notes that these early adopters will need to upgrade or replace existing systems with certified products to qualify for the incentives later on, so why not give them a “temporary” certified status to receive the incentive. Burgess’s bill still requires hospitals and physicians’ practices with EHRs already in place to prove they are abiding by the “meaningful use” guidelines. The bill requires these early adopters to have their systems fully certified by 2013.

Without HR 6005, physicians’ offices across the nation who have already taken the government’s suggestion of moving toward EHRs will have to dip into their budgets for upgrades or other costly measures to meet incentive guidelines. Let’s not forget these are the same offices facing a Medicare reimbursement cut in December of this year, by the way.

In my opinion, Burgess’s bill makes sense. Washington, D.C., has done a bang-up job promoting EHRs with the promise of a great return on investment for small physicians’ practices and large hospitals alike. Asking someone to play the game, but then restricting them because they signed up first to roll the dice is not good sportsmanship at all.

Some will be concerned with the “incentives now, certification later” aspect of the proposed legislation, but let’s be honest here. The entities that will qualify under the bill have already made the investment in money, staff, and time to bring an EHR into their operations. It is not like they will get the incentive and disappear.

It’s time the federal government started to show a little good faith on its part to let healthcare providers know that it is serious in its own investment in EHRs to set a good example for those relying on that promise.