$5 Billion Paid Out In Meaningful Use Incentives: Now What?

So, the latest data from CMS reports that Medicare and Medicaid have paid out $5 billion in incentive payments.  Sorry to be one of those annoying “glass half empty” folks, but I’m not terribly impressed.

In fact, I keep wondering whether I’m the only person who has grown more and more skeptical about Meaningful Use as it continues to pay out bonuses.  I’m more concerned about what happens next, when hospitals which were sped into EMR use truly take stock of what they’ve bought and why.

According to CMS, the total number of hospitals registered for incentive payments is 3,569, a substantial percentage of the facilities in the U.S.  While the math gets tricky, the bulk of those hospitals seem to have shared in the $3.34 billion paid out to the industry by CMS. (The rest has gone to eligible professionals, largely physicians.)

Some hospitals have gotten large incentive checks, but few seem to have gotten anywhere near what it’s going to cost them to install, integrate and maintain their EMRs over the next five to ten years, much less cope with the productivity hits some will face.  That may be ok, but it’s worth repeating: let’s not confuse these incentives with financing.

Despite this reality, hospitals seem to be barreling ahead — grimly, with teeth clenched perhaps — but ahead nonetheless.  If they’re not sure of what to do with their Epic and Cerner and Allscripts gear, other than meet government requirements, it wouldn’t surprise me.  Revolutions usually don’t happen on somebody else’s timeline.

Doctors, meanwhile, seem to be taking a bit of a pause on the whole “race to EMRs” thing. The same CMS data  indicates that the number of eligible professionals registering for incentives was down in 12 percent in April from March numbers. More specifically, a whopping 36 percent fewer professionals signed up for the Medicaid program, though that was offset by a 13 percent increase in Medicare enrollment by professionals.

Personally, I don’t think we’re at a tipping point yet when it comes to acceptance of Meaningful Use, despite the dollars providers are spending to company.  How about you?