Health IT Specialist, Wisconsin Health Information Technology Extension Center (WHITEC)
Wisconsin launched its Medicaid EHR Incentive Program in August 2011. In the last several months I’ve had the opportunity to work with many small, independent practices and solo providers as they sort through the specifics of the program in our state. Time and again I hear how grateful they are for not just the incentive money, but the recognition of their efforts to transition to electronic records. And although the first year of participation doesn’t require a demonstration of meaningful use there are still a number of moving parts and deadlines that as a trusted advisor with our state’s Regional Extension Center I am privileged to help them navigate.
As you may already know, the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program rewards eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and critical access hospitals as they adopt, implement, or upgrade (AIU) certified EHR technology in their first year of participation and demonstrate meaningful use for up to five additional participation years. Eligible professionals must choose between the Medicare and Medicaid programs if they qualify for both – and the Medicaid program is almost always the better bet, as it offers more funding and a more lenient timeline. As of the first week of January, 43 states have opened registration for their Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, although not all of those have started issuing payments.
Here are a few things we have done to help smooth the way for our practices in Wisconsin:
- Built a good relationship with our state’s Medicaid HIT Program and health information exchange, meeting regularly to coordinate efforts and share updates.
- Learned about prerequisite steps and requirements that might not be immediately apparent. For example, some practices need to set up electronic funds transfer so they can actually receive the incentive payments their providers reassign to them.
- Instructed providers to allow enough time to register with both CMS and with our state’s own registration system. In Wisconsin, it takes up to 48 hours to verify eligibility, so the whole process can’t be done in one day.
- Became familiar with the state’s online incentive program application so that we can easily assist when a practice or provider is ready to register and submit their AIU application. It helps to sit in on the application process and learn about potential missteps.
- Anticipated questions before crunch time. For example, how should a health center determine its needy population level? What if a provider practices in two locations or even across state lines?
Providers who qualify for the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program often face many challenges, including declining reimbursements and sometimes transient and vulnerable patient populations. I am encouraged by their dedication to achieving meaningful use of health information technology in the face of competing priorities and day-to-day struggles. They appreciate any steps we can take to make the journey easier.