GAO: Most successful attesters from South, urban areas

The number and type of providers who received Meaningful Use incentive payments in 2011 varied significantly from thousands to millions, according to yesterday's report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report suggests that smaller, rural hospitals might be less likely to receive EHR payments, raising concerns about the first year of the incentive program, AHA News Now reported.

The study found that 761 hospitals, representing 16 percent of eligible hospitals, successfully attested to Meaningful Use, receiving an incentive payment ranging from $22,300 to $4.4 million. The median payment was $1.7 million.

Only nine percent of eligible professionals received incentive payments in 2011.

The breakdown of these successful attesters revealed several themes. The largest proportion of hospitals (44 percent) were in the South; the lowest proportion (12 percent) was in the Northeast. Two-thirds were hospitals in urban areas, and most (86 percent) were acute care hospitals. Acute care hospitals were more than two times more likely than critical access hospitals to receive payment.

The largest proportion of eligible professionals (32 percent) were also in the South; the lowest proportion (17 percent) was in the West. An overwhelming majority (89 percent) were in urban areas. Seventy-one percent of them had not previously participated in the government's electronic prescribing program, but those professionals who had participated in that program were almost four times more likely to have successfully attested.

General practice physicians were 1.8 times more likely than specialty practice physicians to receive a payment. Professionals who signed up for help forming a regional extension center were more than twice as likely to have received a payment.

"Identifying the number and characteristics of providers that participated during the first year of the Medicare EHR program can provide important information on whether certain types of providers were more likely than others to participate. This information could also provide an early indication of the types of providers that may be more likely to receive payment reductions in future years of the program," the report noted.

The Health Information Technology on Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 requires the GAO to report on the law's impact on EHRs.  

In a previous GAO report on EHRs in April, the GAO chastised the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for having insufficient processes to verify when providers meet the eligibility and reporting requirements of the EHR program. CMS has only just begun to audit providers regarding their attestations.   

To learn more:
- read the AHA News Now brief
- here's the July report
- read the April report
- see the audits