CMS to hit 257,000 docs with Meaningful Use penalties

Roughly 257,000 Medicare eligible professionals (EPs) will be hit with a 1 percent penalty to their Medicare Physician Fee Schedule payments beginning Jan. 5, 2015, for failing to meet Meaningful Use in previous years, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services revealed during a press call Wednesday afternoon.

Of those 257,000 EPs, 28,000 will receive a 2 percent penalty for failing to meet an e-prescribing threshold.

Starting this week, CMS is mailing letters out to those EPs affected by the penalty. The letters will contain instructions for the EPs to apply for further consideration; those considerations can be sent to CMS through the end of February. The instructions also will be posted to CMS' website.

"It's possible we could have made a mistake, and we want to give people the opportunity to point that out to us," a CMS official said on the call.

The official, when asked for reasons why providers failed to demonstrate Meaningful Use, suggested that some set to be penalized could be close to retirement.

"You can believe that they wanted to stay on paper records and don't want to switch," the official said. Now that the agency knows exactly who will be penalized, it can analyze more closely the data over the next few months, the official added.

Just over 200 eligible hospitals were hit with Medicare reimbursement penalties starting last Oct. 1; the timetable for hospitals is based on the fiscal year calendar.

Roughly 55,000 EPs have been approved for hardship exemptions by CMS over the course of two application processes that took place earlier this year; about 2,000 applicants were denied the exemption, many of which, according to agency officials, had actually already met the Meaningful Use threshold and were simply confused by the rule.

Those EPs who received hardship exemptions for 2015 penalties will have to reapply for 2016 hardship exemptions if they don't believe they can meet the threshold again.

"We can only grant hardships on a case-by-case and annual basis," the official said.