What is the HITECH Act and How Do You Cash In?

It doesn’t take much for a $44,000 incentive to catch one’s eye and fire the imagination about what you’d be able to do with the extra money. Which begs the question: what exactly is the HITECH Act and how can you benefit from it? Here are four things you need to know.

The HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act) is an incentive program urging everyone from family doctors to chiropractors and other medical professionals to install certified electronic health record (EHR) software for everyday practice and use. As part of the federal economic stimulus package known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the highly publicized government program was signed into law on February 17, 2009. The HITECH Act significantly altered and/or altogether changed sections of the Social Security Act. It also created a way in which medical professionals can save time, resources, and essentially make medical record transfers as simple as the click of a mouse. The time it takes to learn key details about a patient’s medical history has been drastically reduced thanks to EHR software.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, the reality is that while the simplicity of the incentive program has been highlighted for years, there are some rules any interested party needs to follow. Below are four key components of the HITECH Act and how you can benefit.

1. Buying Equipment isn’t Enough

Medicare will not fork over $44,000 simply for owning the necessary EHR software. In order to receive the payout you must:

  • Demonstrate the equipment is being used in a meaningful manner
  • The certified equipment is being used as an electronic exchange of essential medical health information in order to improve the quality of the healthcare provided
  • The technology is used to submit clinical quality measurements

In other words, if the technology is being used to improve the overall performance of the medical establishment, essentially aiding the patients in a manner greater than before the technology was installed, you’ll be $44,000 richer.

2.  The Program Has Three Phases Over Five Years

Patience is the name of the game, ladies and gentlemen. After you’ve purchased the equipment and demonstrated its value, you don’t just receive a nice fat check in the mail. The initial check is $18,000, so don’t spend all $44,000 before you receive it.

It’s important to remember that the HITECH Act incentive program is evolving. The final stage of development, Stage 3, isn’t expected to be implemented until 2015. Not knowing the criteria for the final stage means the rules for future incentives haven’t been set yet. It’s best to stay informed and continue to check in with the federal government.

3. Continued Quality Assurance ****

It’s important to note that just because you’ve received an initial incentive check; it doesn’t mean the work can stop. All attestations, quality measurements, cost data analysis, patient data, and subsequent submissions must be correct on a daily, continued basis. The final rule of the HITECH Act states:

“CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) will identify and recoup overpayments made under the incentive payment program that result from incorrect or fraudulent attestations, quality measurements, cost data, patient data, or any other submission required to establish eligibility or qualify for a payment.”

The interim final rule became effective November 30, 2009, and ensures the consistent and correct use of EHR software. Net: details matter. You need to make continuous measurement part of your processes or there will be no $44,000.

4. You May Already Be Missing Out

With the first deadline for enrollment already passed, you may have missed out on some of the initial incentives if you don’t already have an EHR in place to attest for meaningful use.  But don’t worry – there’s still $39,000 on the table for you. While it would seem foolish to pass up the opportunity to improve patient care and get paid for it, the HITECH Act is not mandatory—yet. So for now, if an aging paper trail is your preferred method of managing records, continue with business as usual. However, it’s important to note that there are future penalties coming on specific Medicare claims.

Beginning in 2015, Medicare-eligible professionals who have not successfully installed and demonstrated meaningful use of EHR software will be faced with reductions in payment as follows:

  • One percent for the first initial year.
  • An additional one percent increase for each year the eligible medical professional does not install and demonstrate meaningful EHR use.
  • Maximum deduction of five percent.

2015 may seem far away, but it’s really not. Now’s the time to upgrade your systems to help your patients and benefit your practice.