Hospitals and physicians that qualify for Stage 1 of the HITECH Act electronic health record incentive program this year will have extra time to comply with Stage 2 requirements, which are expected to include tougher privacy and security guidelines.
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that the deadline for Stage 2 compliance has been extended from 2013 to 2014 for those who attest by February 2012 that they qualified for Stage 1 by adopting EHRs this year. The move is in an effort to make it easier to qualify for maximum payments under the program. This plan also aligns better with the guidelines for those who start Stage 1 compliance in 2012 and have until 2014 to comply with Stage 2. The change in the deadline removes the disincentive for providers to adopt and use health IT right away.
The HITECH Act was designed to provide billions of dollars worth of incentives through Medicare and Medicaid for hospitals and physicians that make meaningful use of EHRs. Payments are received in phases based on achieving goals for each stage of the program. Those who qualify earliest receive the maximum level of incentives.
To qualify as a meaningful user of EHRs for Stage 1 incentive payments, organizations must conduct a risk assessment and take action to mitigate any privacy or security issues. Stage 2 is expected to include other, more detailed, privacy and security requirements.
The more stringent requirements for Stage 2 are expected to be announced next summer.
HHS also announced that a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that 52 percent of office-based physicians intend to take advantage of the EHR incentive program.
The percentage of physicians who have adopted basic EHRs in their practice grew to 34 percent in 2011 from 17 percent in 2008, according to the survey.
Earlier, HHS announced that 100,000 primary care providers have signed up to adopt EHRs through regional extension centers, which provide assistance in qualifying for the incentive program.
New Coverage for Screening and Counseling for Obesity
Medicare will now provide screening and counseling for eligible beneficiaries who are obese or are at risk for obesity. Benefits will cover the cost of these preventive services by primary care providers in settings such as physicians' offices.
Preventive services will include the following:
* Screening for obesity in adults using body mass indexes (BMI);
* Dietary (nutritional) assessment; and
* Intensive behavioral counseling and behavioral therapy to promote sustained weight loss through high-intensity interventions on diet and exercise.
For beneficiaries who screen positive for obesity with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2, the benefits will include:
* One face-to-face counseling visit each week for one month.
* One face-to-face counseling visit every other week for an additional five months.
* One face-to-face counseling visit every month for an additional six months (for a total of 12 months of counseling) if the patients have achieved a weight reduction of at least 6.6 pounds (or 3 kilograms) during the first six months of counseling.
Over 30 percent of both men and women in the Medicare population are estimated to be obese. Obesity is directly or indirectly associated with many chronic diseases, including those that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Addressing the prevention of obesity-related disparities has the potential to reduce obesity prevalence while also closing the gap on health disparities among Medicare beneficiaries.