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Understanding Meaningful Use Penalties in 2015


The EHR Incentive Programs take a new turn in 2015: the penalty phase. More rule changes may come, but providers shouldn't count on relief.

Starting in 2015, if you are an eligible provider and have not attested to meaningful use of your EHR for 2014, you will be hit with a 1 percent penalty on your Medicare reimbursement. The penalties will increase to 2 percent in 2016 and 3 percent in 2017. If you're already enrolled in the program, make sure you attest for 2014 by Feb. 28, 2015, to avoid the 2015 penalty.

If you haven't signed up yet, you may still be able to avoid 2015 penalties. "Since it is so late in the year, this is a gray area," said Tammie Olsen of Management Resource Group, a firm offering financial management and support services for the healthcare community. "CMS states that it will grant a waiver of the 2015 penalties for providers who sign up this year, so you need to verify this when you sign up-but you need to act now," she added.

Unfortunately, the deadline for a hardship waiver for 2014 reporting has already passed, but if you don't think you can meet the requirements for 2015, you can apply for a hardship waiver for 2015 reporting to avoid penalties in 2016. The deadline for filling for a hardship exemption to avoid 2016 penalties is July 2015.

If all of the above fails, or if you simply do not want to participate, "Make sure that the 1 percent penalty is calculated into your 2015 budget, and make sure your billing staff is aware that they will be seeing this adjustment on the remits from Medicare," advised Olsen.

So far, the program has been an often confusing flurry of rule and deadline changes, and there is no reason to expect that to be different in 2015. "The American Medical Association has asked policymakers to shorten the reporting period [for 2015] and make optional the Stage Two objectives physicians are finding most challenging to meet," said Steven Stack, president-elect of the AMA. Whether they will bow to these and other demands is anybody's guess.

"Although CMS states that they are going forward, they are under so much pressure about these programs, they could actually delay the penalty phase and allow providers more time to enroll. Remember ICD-10? They extended that deadline for one year," said Olsen.

It would be naïve to expect the meaningful use program to go smoothly and according to plan in 2015, but it would be foolhardy to count on delays. If you are not up to speed on the program, make plans to get up to speed, or else budget for the penalties. That way, if there are delays in 2015, it will be a nice surprise and not a last-minute lifesaver.

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