By Nicolas Terry
Today the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the Department of Health and Human Services released a report, here, that is decidedly critical of CMS and ONC oversight of the Electronic Health Record (EHR) subsidy program.
Over the last couple of years there have been growing criticisms of the Meaningful Use program and its disbursement of potentially $30 billion in ARRA funds. I have detailed many of these concerns, such as the overall effectiveness of electronic records, my doubts as to the robustness of the first two Stages of Meaningful Use requirements, the safety record of the technologies, their ability to actually save money, their real-world interoperability, and their general usability in the healthcare workflow, here.
Recently, additional questions have been raised that go to the very heart of the subsidy program. First, the Center for Public Integrity, here, and the New York Times, here, set off a firestorm with allegations of EHR use leading to extensive upcoding. This led to a scolding letter to the healthcare industry from Secretary Sebelius and the Attorney-General, here, and combative words back from some of the addressees, here.
Questions have also been raised about the apparent laxity of CMS in approving payment to providers claiming subsidy funds, leading to CMS announcing a hastily designed audit process, here.
Today’s OIG report elaborates on the same basic issue of lax payment safeguards. First, the report finds that CMS has not implemented strong pre-payment safeguards (either by verifying self-reported data or requiring supporting documentation). Second, it suggests that CMS’s proposed post-payment audit program is limited and potentially flawed. Fortunately, CMS/ONC are in broad agreement with the OIG that the EHR technology itself must step up and meaningfully test for meaningful use. In the meantime increased Congressional scrutiny seems a less elegant but likely surrogate.