CMS: There's still incentive money available

The Meaningful Use incentive program is personal to each provider, and is not just for primary care physicians, according to Travis Broome (pictured), team lead for policy and oversight of health IT initiatives at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Office of e-Health Standards and Services, who spoke on a webinar hosted by CMS as part of National Health IT Week Sept. 17.

"Just because you're not in primary care or a physician does not mean that Meaningful Use can't speak to you," Broome said. "The programs still exist and there is still money available."

Broome, provided an overview of the Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs and also clarified several upcoming aspects of the program.

For instance, CMS has engaged a contractor to help it with the hardship exemption application process, which, Broome said, hopefully will be available early next year. There are currently five hardship exemptions, including lack of infrastructure to attain Meaningful Use, unforeseen circumstances and lack of sufficient patient interaction. Providers who meet a hardship exemption that keeps them from meeting the Meaningful Use requirements will not be subject to payment adjustments, which kick in in 2015. The deadline to apply for a hardship exemption is July 1, 2014.

Broome also clarified that "unforeseen circumstances" can include the need to switch electronic health record vendors or a vendor going out of business, rendering the provider incapable of meeting Meaningful Use. To meet this exemption, however, the provider needs to not only explain to CMS the unforeseen circumstance, but why it will prevent Meaningful Use attestation.

"Don't assume that CMS will do that second part for you," Broome said.  

He also stressed the importance of keeping patient information private. "You must, must, must protect the health information," Broome said.

To learn more:
- here's CMS' e-health website