GAO issues recommendations to CMS on EHR program requirements

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which monitors spending of federal dollars, is calling for improvements in measurement of whether hospitals and physicians have met requirements for EHR meaningful use incentive payments.

GAO made four recommendations to CMS, which oversees the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, to improve processes to verify whether providers met program requirements, including opportunities for efficiencies.

The GAO recommendations are as follows:

  1. The administrator of CMS should establish timeframes for expeditiously implementing an evaluation of the effectiveness of the agency’s audit strategy for the Medicare EHR program.
  2. The administrator of CMS should evaluate the extent to which the agency should conduct more verifications on a prepayment basis when determining whether providers meet Medicare EHR program’s reporting requirements.
  3. The administrator of CMS should collect the additional information from Medicare providers during attestation that CMS suggested states collect from Medicaid providers during attestation.
  4. The administrator of CMS should offer states the option of having CMS collect meaningful use attestations from Medicaid providers on their behalf.

The Department of Health & Human Services, of which CMS is a part, agreed with three of GAO’s recommendations, but disagreed with the fourth – that CMS offer to collect certain information on states’ behalf. GAO continues to believe this action is an important step to yield potential cost savings, GAO officials said in their report.

To receive incentive payments, providers must meet both eligibility requirements that specify the types of providers eligible to participate in the programs and reporting requirements that specify the information providers must report to CMS or the states, including measures that demonstrate meaningful use of an EHR system and measures of clinical quality.

For the Medicare EHR program, CMS has implemented prepayment processes to verify whether providers have met all of the eligibility requirements and one of the reporting requirements.

Beginning in 2012, the agency also has plans to implement a risk-based audit strategy to verify on a post-payment basis that a sample of providers met the remaining reporting requirements.

CMS officials stated that the agency intends to evaluate how effectively its Medicare EHR program audit strategy reduces the risk of improper EHR incentive payments, though the agency has not yet established corresponding timelines for doing this work, according to GAO.

Such an evaluation could help CMS determine whether it should revise its verification processes by, for example, implementing additional prepayment processes, which GAO has shown may reduce the risk of improper payments. In addition, CMS has opportunities to improve the efficiency of verification processes by, for example, collecting certain data on states’ behalf, or both.

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