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By MassHealth Health IT Project Manager Deborah Schiel

Recently, I was referred to a specialist by my primary care physician. Prior to the appointment, the new physician requested my medical records so he could review my health history. It seemed easy enough. Since my physician had an electronic health record (EHR) system I thought I could simply sign the paperwork that would allow him to share my medical information with the new provider and it would be transferred electronically in a timely way.

Although Massachusetts has more providers using EHRs than most other states, many providers still use paper medical records or if they do have electronic medical records, these systems are not set up to “talk to each other.” In my particular case, the two electronic medical record systems did not “communicate” with each other, transfer of my medical information meant that my primary care provider had to print out a copy of my medical record; I had to stop by his practice to pick it up and then drop it off at the specialist’s office a couple of days prior to my appointment. Can you imagine having to take these same steps to transfer money from one bank account to another bank account? Shouldn’t the transfer of health care information be handled electronically much like the banking industry?

Last October, Massachusetts reached a health care milestone with the launch of the Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment Program, working toward the Commonwealth’s goal of ensuring that every provider in the state has access to a federally certified EHR system that communicates with other certified EHR systems by 2015. During the first four months of the program, more than $76 million in Medicaid EHR incentives have been disbursed to over 40 short-term acute care hospitals and nearly 1,700 eligible health care professionals.  Both the Medicaid program and the Medicare EHR Provider Incentive Payment Program were established through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provide 100% of the incentives paid to providers and 90% of the state’s costs to operate the program. In August 2011, CMS announced that MassHealth would receive more than $12 Million in federal reimbursement to support operations and provider outreach activities for the first two years of the Medicaid incentive program. MassHealth estimates that more than 6,000 eligible professionals and most of the acute care hospitals in Massachusetts will be eligible for the program, which means potentially more than $500 million in federal EHR incentives being paid to Massachusetts providers during the 10-year program. 

MassHealth is partnering with its colleagues at the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI), a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which will support key operational and provider outreach components of the incentive program.  MeHI is the state agency dedicated to  health care innovation, technology and competitiveness.  Another crucial participant is the Provider Compliance Unit of The University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Health Care Financing. They will be reviewing providers to make sure they meet all necessary requirements for receiving the incentive payments, and they will also audit the providers after the incentive payments are made.

Launching the Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment Program is just one of many exciting health information technology (HIT) initiatives that MassHealth,  Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), other state agencies and key stakeholders (including MeHI) are collaborating on to promote the widespread adoption and meaningful use of certified EHRs by providers across the Commonwealth. Widespread use of EHRs by Massachusetts health care providers is essential to transforming health care in the Commonwealth, and the move away from a fee-for-service model towards a system that offers fully integrated, coordinated, and patient-focused health care services. 

For more information on the Program, providers can contact the Massachusetts Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment Program staff at 1-855-massEHR or submit questions to massEHR@masstech.org.  In addition, providers can receive information on the Program at www.mass.gov/masshealth/ehrincentives.

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