OIG Recommends CMS, ONC Tighten EMR Incentive Program Rules To Improve Oversight

The Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General is recommending the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) act to improve the effectiveness of its oversight and management of the Medicare electronic health record (EHR) incentive program.  The recommendations are likely to impact on the requirements that hospitals and other professionals will be required to meet to get and keep EHR program incentive payments.  Consequently, hospitals, physicians and other providers and their technology and other systems advisors and vendors should carefully watch and respond to changes that these two agencies implement in response to the OIG feedback.

According to an OIG study reported here, the CMS estimates that it will pay $6.6 billion in EHR incentive payments to providers under the program between 2011 and 2016.  Many hospitals, physician organizations and other providers are making substantial investments in EHR and related technologies in reliance of expectation of receiving program incentive payments.  Accordingly, parties hoping to qualify for incentive programs need to watch closely the actions that the agencies take in response to this OIG input or otherwise that impacts on qualification and audits.

OIG Study & Findings

OIG’s early assessment of CMS’s oversight of the Program found that because professionals and hospitals self-report data to prove fulfillment of program requirements, CMS’s efforts to verify these data will help make sure the integrity of Medicare EHR incentive payments.

The recommendation comes from an OIG study reviewing CMS’s oversight of professionals’ and hospitals’ self-reported meaningful use of certified EHR technology in 2011, the first year of the program.  OIG evaluated self-reported information against program requirements.  It also looked at CMS’s audit planning documents, regulations and guidance for the program and conducted structured interviews with CMS staff on CMS’s oversight.

Based on this evaluation, OIG foundCMS faces obstacles to overseeing the Medicare EHR incentive program that leave the program vulnerable to paying incentives to professionals and hospitals that do not fully meet the meaningful use requirements.  OIG says CMS has not yet implemented strong prepayment safeguards, and has limited ability to safeguard incentive payments postpayment. OIG also reports that the ONC requirements for EHR reports may contribute to CMS’s oversight obstacles.

OIG Recommended Corrective Action

Based on its study, OIG is recommending that CMS take the following actions.

  • Obtain and review supporting documentation from selected professionals and hospitals prior to payment to verify the accuracy of their self‑reported information and
  • Issue guidance with specific examples of documentation that professionals and hospitals should maintain to support their compliance. 

CMS did not agree with our first recommendation, stating that prepayment reviews would increase the burden on practitioners and hospitals and could delay incentive payments.  Despite this CMS feedback, OIG nevertheless is continuing to recommend that CMS conduct prepayment reviews to improve program oversight. CMS concurred with our second recommendation.

OIG also recommended that ONC take the following actions: 

  • Require that certified EHR technology be capable of producing reports for yes/no meaningful use measures where possible and
  • Improve the certification process for EHR technology to make sure applicants provide accurate EHR reports. 

ONC concurred with both recommendations.

Recommended Provider Action

Hospitals and providers looking to take advantage of the HER incentive payments should carefully monitor the developments resulting from these recommendations and take proper actions to stay compliant with evolving requirements as they move forward.

Along with monitoring these responses, providers participating in the incentive program also need to stay abreast of other developments.  For instance, last month, ONC announced the release of the Wave 7 2014 Edition Draft Test Methods (test procedures, tools, and applicable test data and files).  See 2014 Edition Draft Test Procedures webpage. Additional waves of test methods are impending.  ONC says it expects the final set of Test Methods to be available for use in early 2013. 

For Help With Monitoring Developments, Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help reviewing or commenting on the Tests Procedures or monitoring or responding to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, can help.  Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and A Fellow in the American Bar Association, State Bar of Texas and other prominent organizations, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to set up and administer medical privacy, EHR and other technology and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.   

Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

You can get more information about her experience here.

Other Recent Updates & Resources

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in the following recent updates on health care, health plan and employee benefits, human resources and other risk management and compliance matters.  Recent examples on health care compliance and risk management matters include:

Congress Sends Bill Amending Lab Testing Rule Violation Sanctions

Learn Latest On OCR New HIPAA De-Identification Guidance & Other HIPAA Developments In 12/12 HIPAA Update Workshop!

$12M+ Settlement Recoveries In 2 Health Care Fraud Whistleblower Claims Shows Providers, Owners, Management & Staff Must Manage Compliance & Risks

Feds Health Fraud Suit Against Psychiatrists Shows Risks Providers Run From Aggressive Referral or Billing Activities

ONC Releases Next Wave of 2014 Draft Test Methods For Public Review and Comment; Plans 11/13 Virtual Workshop

Recent OIG Audit Reports Provide Insights Where Fraud Audits Likely To Look Next

Hospital Chain HCA Inc. Pays $16.5 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations That Hospital

Detroit-Area Doctor Charged for Role in Alleged $40 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Five More Individuals Charged in Detroit for Alleged Roles in $24.7 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

Massachusetts Ear Group To Pay $1.5 Million To Resolve HIPAA Charges

Personal Consumer Information Protection In Health Care Operations Topic of Stamer’s 11/1 Speech

ONC Releases First Wave of EHR Test Procedures; More To Come

OCR Releases HIPAA Compliance Training Tool As Enforcement Risks Rise

Health Care Orgs Disability Exposure High As $475K Paid To Settle Justice Department Charges Medical Fitness Screenings of EMTs, Others Violated ADA

HHS/DOJ Partner With Private Health Plans To Further Ramp Up Health Care Fraud Heat!

AHRQ Issues New Guide for Use of Interactive Preventive Care Record

Nextcare Inc. $10 Million False Claims Act Settlement Shows Qui Tam Role In False Claims Act Prosecutions

For more resources and publications training materials by Ms. Stamer, see here.  

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


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