CMS Announces Intent to Modify Meaningful Use

CMS announced today its intent to make significant changes to the EHR Incentive Program beginning in 2015.  The proposed changes, though not yet codified in a proposed rule, include a much desired ease of the program requirements in 2015.  They include:

  1. Aligning hospital EHR reporting periods to the calendar year (rather than the fiscal year) to allow hospitals to have more time to incorporate 2014 CEHRT into their workflows;
  2. Shortening the EHR reporting period in 2015 to 90 days to accommodate these changes; and
  3. Adjusting other portions of the program to “match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers’ reporting burdens.”

These new rules are expected this spring.  CMS clarified in its announcement that these proposed modifications will not be forthcoming in the Stage 3 proposed rule which is expected to be released in early March.  CMS also indicated that it proposes to limit the scope of the Stage 3 proposed rule to criteria for meaningful use in 2017 and beyond.

To learn more about meaningful use and the EHR Incentive Program contact Elana Zana.

Reducing the Risks of Third-Party Access to EHR Systems

UnityPoint Health, a health system located in Iowa, recently informed 1,800 patients of a breach of their health information.  UnityPoint learned of the breach after an audit discovered that a third party contractor’s employee had improperly gained access to the UnityPoint electronic health record (EHR) system and viewed the records of the 1,800 patients.

The UnityPoint breach shows the risks of allowing a third party contractors, known as “business associates,” to access health information in an EHR system  While such access may be required for certain activities, including billing, claims management, or utilization review, providers must be certain that the business associate agreements with such contractors include strong protections for the provider.

For example, business associate agreements should include requirements for the business associate to indemnify the provider for expenses resulting from HIPAA breaches, pay all notification costs associated with such breaches, and maintain insurance policies that provide coverage for a large breach.

Although strong language in a business associate agreement provides legal protection for a provider, it will do nothing to counteract the public relations fallout that results from notifying patients of a breach.  Therefore, providers should make every effort to contract with legitimate entities that understand HIPAA compliance.

If you would like more information about HIPAA compliance, please contact Casey Moriarty.

Proposal Would Extend EHR Donation Rules

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released proposed rules to amend the electronic health record (EHR) donation exception and safe harbor under the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute.  The exception and safe harbor permit certain entities to share costs associated with EHR-related items and services with other entities.   Under the regulations, the receiving party must pay at least 15 percent of the donor’s cost for the items and services.

The current language of the regulations has a “sunset” provision that requires a donor to transfer EHR items and services on or before December 31, 2013.  Under the proposed rules, HHS would extend the sunset provision three years to December 31, 2016.

Without the rule change, existing donation arrangements would have to convert to a “fair market value” model for shared services and technology.  The existing sunset provisions also provide a significant barrier to the development of new arrangements. 

The rules also include the following proposed revisions to the regulations: (1) changes to the requirements for when EHR software is deemed “interoperable, (2) removal of the requirement related to electronic prescribing capability, and (3) limits on the types of entities that are allowed to make EHR donations.

HHS also seeks suggestions on how to achieve the following goals under the exception and safe harbor: (1) preventing the misuse of donated EHR technology in a way that results in data and referral lock-in, and (2) encouraging the free exchange of data created by donated software.

You can view the proposed rule for the Anti-Kickback Statute here and the proposed rule for the Stark Law here.

HHS will accept comments to the proposed rules until June 10, 2013.

If you have any questions about donating EHR technology under the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law, please contact David Schoolcraft or Casey Moriarty.

CMS Issues 3 FAQs on Stage 2 Rules and the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program

CMS has responded to several questions following the issuance of its Stage 2 Meaningful Use Final Rule.  Along with publishing new meaningful use guidelines, the Final Rule adds new provisions regarding the calculation of patient volume for Medicaid providers.  CMS has recently published these new FAQs, some of which take effect immediately, while others will start in 2013, giving the states some time to update their guidance.  These new rules will affect all eligible professionals, regardless of their stage in participation in meaningful use.  To see additional FAQs click here.

Medicaid changes to patient volume calculations 

Q: The EHR Incentive Programs Stage 1 Rule stated that, in order for a Medicaid encounter to count towards the patient volume of an eligible provider, Medicaid had to either pay for all or part of the service, or pay all or part of the premium, deductible or coinsurance for that encounter.  The Stage 2 Rule now states that the Medicaid encounter can be counted towards patient volume if the patient is enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program (either through the state’s fee-for-service programs or the state’s Medicaid managed care programs) at the time of service without the requirement of Medicaid payment liability. How will this change affect patient volume calculations for Medicaid eligible providers?  

A: Importantly, this change affecting the Medicaid patient volume calculation is applicable to all eligible providers, regardless of the stage of the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program they are participating in. Billable services provided by an eligible provider to a patient enrolled in Medicaid would count toward meeting the minimum Medicaid patient volume thresholds.  Examples of Medicaid encounters under this expanded definition that could be newly eligible might include: behavioral health services, HIV/AIDS treatment, or other services that might not be billed to Medicaid/managed care for privacy reasons, but where the provider has a mechanism to verify eligibility.  Also, services to a Medicaid-enrolled patient that might not have been reimbursed by Medicaid (or a Medicaid managed care organization) may now be included in the Medicaid patient volume calculation (e.g., oral health services, immunization, vaccination and women’s health services, telemedicine/telehealth, etc.).

Providers who are not currently enrolled with their state Medicaid agency who might be newly eligible for the incentive payments due to these changes should note that they are not necessarily required to fully enroll with Medicaid in order to receive the payment.

In some instances, it may now be appropriate to include services denied by Medicaid in calculating patient volume.  It will be appropriate to review denial reasons.  If Medicaid denied the service for timely filing or because another payer’s payment exceeded the potential Medicaid payment, it would be appropriate to include that encounter in the calculation.  If Medicaid denied payment for the service because the beneficiary has exceeded service limits established by the Medicaid program, it would be appropriate to include that encounter in the calculation.  If Medicaid denied the service because the patient was ineligible for Medicaid at the time of service, it would not be appropriate to include that encounter in the calculation.

Further guidance regarding this change will be distributed to the states as appropriate.

CHIP patients eligible to be included in Medicaid patient volume totals
Q: The Stage 2 Rule describes changes to how a state considers CHIP patients in the Medicaid patient volume total when determining provider eligibility. Patients in which kinds of CHIP programs are now appropriate to be considered in the Medicaid patient volume total?  

A: States that have offered CHIP as part of a Medicaid expansion under Title 19 or Title 21 can include those patients in their provider’s Medicaid patient volume calculation as there is cost liability to the Medicaid program in either case (under the Stage 1 Rule, only CHIP programs created under a Medicaid expansion via Title 19 were eligible). Patients in standalone CHIP programs established under Title 21 are not to be considered part of the patient volume total (in Stage 1 or Stage 2). This change to the patient volume calculation is applicable to all eligible providers, regardless of the stage of the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program they are participating in.

Changes to the base year of the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program for hospital incentive payment calculation 
Q: Are there any changes to the base year for the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program hospital incentive payment calculation?

A: Yes. Previously Medicaid eligible hospitals calculated the base year using a 12 month period ending in the Federal fiscal year before the hospital’s fiscal year that serves as the first payment year.  In an effort to encourage timely participation in the program, §495.310(g)(1)(i)(B) of the Stage 2 Rule was amended to allow hospitals to use the most recent continuous 12 month period for which data are available prior to the payment year. This change went into effect upon publication of the Stage 2 Rule.  Only hospitals that begin participation in the program after the publication date of the Stage 2 Rule (i.e., program years 2013 and later) will be affected by this change.  Hospitals that began participation in the program prior to the Stage 2 Rule will not have to adjust previous calculations.