Medicare bill rewards providers for e-prescribing

The Medicare fee adjustment law passed by Congress this week provides incentives for doctors to use e-prescribing beginning in October.

The bill, whose primary purpose was to rescind a scheduled 10.6 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare fees, passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority after an even more lopsided vote for passage in the House June 24. It now goes to President Bush for signing. He had threatened to veto the bill but can now only delay its enactment.

Doctors who use e-prescribing for Medicare patients would receive a 2 percent bonus in 2009 and 2010, a 1 percent bonus the following two years and a 0.5 percent bonus in 2013.

Those who don’t use e-prescribing would be subject to fee reductions of 1 percent in 2012, 1.5 percent in 2013 and 2 percent thereafter. There is a provision for hardship exemptions.

The bill also calls for the Government Accountability Office to study the rate of e-prescribing adoption under the measure by 2012. And it would require the Health and Human Services Department, which administers the Medicare program, to post an online list of doctors and group practices that use e-prescribing, along with those who submit data that measures quality of care.

To be eligible for the incentive payments, doctors must use e-prescribing systems that comply with the standards HHS issued for Medicare Part D, the drug benefits program.

Because Medicare is the nation’s largest health insurance program, the incentives are expected to hasten adoption of e-prescribing, which only about 6 percent of physicians and other prescribers use.

Private insurers are also offering e-prescribing incentives or subsidies for doctors.

The technology reduces medication errors, makes it easier for patients to obtain prescription medicine, saves time at doctors’ offices and pharmacies, and increases compliance with insurers’ preferences for certain medications to hold costs down.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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