Regional Extension Centers (Finally) Help Docs Get Incentives

For a while there, it seemed like the RECs didn’t have their act together, particularly when it came to reaching out to and closing the deal with doctors. Getting the right person on the phone wasn’t that easy, in fact. Well, times change. A new report suggests that the RECs have gotten on top of things.

The new study, which was issued by the General Accounting Office, concludes that healthcare providers who partnered with a REC — a step which involves a modest fee — were more than twice as likely to get an incentive payment under the Medicare incentive program.  The data in the report comes from 2011, and drew on varied government sources.

On a related note, the GAO reported that 2,802 hospitals and 141,649 professionals registered for the Medicare incentive program last year. Of that group 761 hospitals and 56,585 professionals got incentive payments through Medicare.

The agency also took a look at which types of hospital were more likely to get the Medicare incentive, and got some unsurprising results (summary courtesy of EMR Daily News):

Critical access hospitals were less than half as likely to earn incentives as acute care hospitals.

Hospitals in the top third of size (measured by number of beds) were 2.4 times more likely than hospitals in the bottom third to earn an incentive payment.

Nonprofit and for-profit hospitals were 1.1 and 1.5 times more likely than government-owned hospitals, respectively, to receive an incentive payment.

Only one in ten (12.2 percent) of eligible rural hospitals were awarded Medicare EHR incentive payments.

Taken as a whole, I  see this as a “good news/bad news” situation. One the one hand we have the welcome news that the REC program is actually delivering on its promise, something I imagine we’re all glad to see.

On the other, the critical access/rural hospital numbers are simply unacceptable. There’s no reason that people in these hospitals would be any less capable of meeting Meaningful Use standards, but they lack the staff and capital needed to push their efforts along. Ultimately, this could lead to a major disparity in care for Americans living in remote areas.

I’m not sure what the answer is here — other than perhaps a FAT load of grants for such hospitals helping them with MU efforts — but something has to be done.  I’m pretty sure that “the rich hospitals get richer” wasn’t HHS’s intent for MU.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Dr. West,
    Actually it depends on the REC. Some are free. Others charge a fee for their services. Each REC is unique.

  • This comes to no surprise to me! I our Nation, the notion of success as a result of a provider’s ability to compete in the alleged free market -rather than been awarded funding to produce goods based on the needs of the population it serves- have produced a whole array of very rich and powerful organizations that simply have the funding to go for more funding! The history of the rich becoming richer repeats in all walks of life! While the EMR incentive program is not a competing process in itself, those that do not have the resources to even plan for accessing the available funds will always be at the bottom of the pack and will sink deeper irrespective of their legitimate need!

  • Angel,
    I agree with your last comment. It’s become more and more clear that the EHR incentive money has generally been a program that’s gotten the EHR rich, richer. I find this really ironic given the current political climate.

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