Physician groups say they'll protest any effort by feds to take back electronic health records payments

Physician groups will protest if the government tries to recoup money paid out in EHR incentives.

A number of physician groups say they will cry foul if the government tries to recoup any money that may have been erroneously paid out in incorrect electronic health record incentive payments.

The groups that represent the country’s physicians say it would be unfair for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to require doctors to repay any money, according to reports by Politico and Medscape Medical News.

"We would protest if they went through with this. Going after folks who tried to meet arbitrary government requirements, who made a good faith effort, isn't fair,” Robert Tennant, director of health information technology policy at the Medical Group Management Association, told Medscape.

As part of a program to encourage providers to shift to EHRs, CMS incorrectly paid an estimated $729 million in incentive payments to healthcare professionals who did not actually meet Meaningful Use requirements between May 2011 and June 2014, according to the audit (PDF) by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

RELATED: Audit estimates CMS issued hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of incorrect EHR incentive payments

The American College of Physicians blamed the report on CMS’ lack of guidance on what evidence doctors needed to support their Meaningful Use status, according to Politico.

To be eligible to receive an incentive payment from either the Medicare or Medicaid programs, eligible professionals—which can include physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists or chiropractors—must self-report data attesting to their use of EHRs through CMS’ online system. The OIG audited 100 payments and found 14 professionals did not meet the requirements.

Tennant told Politico that the 14 practices OIG says were incorrectly paid may have actually met the requirements, but lacked the evidence to support it when investigators followed up. Laura Wooster, a senior vice president of public policy at the American Osteopathic Association, told Medscape that if CMS tries to recoup Meaningful Use bonuses "we'd have concerns that a lot of physicians would be unfairly audited."

The medical groups may, however, ultimately not need to worry about CMS trying to recoup the money. “This administration is committed to turning the page and ushering in a new era of accountability,” the agency said in a statement that followed OIG’s release of the report.

"We stand committed to safeguarding federal funding by leveraging proven and new program integrity tools to prevent and identify waste, fraud and abuse,” CMS said.