Emergency Department EHR Use on the Rise

According to a new analysis from the National Center on Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of hospital emergency departments using electronic health records (EHRs) increased from 46 percent in 2006 to 84 percent in 2011. EHR use also rose in hospital outpatient departments from 29 percent in 2006 to 73 percent in 2011. EHR systems continue to be a focus of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as the administration works to incentivize a value-based health care system rather than one in which payments are based on volume of care.

IRS Delays Penalties on Small Employers

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that businesses which employ fewer than 50 workers will now have until June 30, 2015 to end arrangements in which they provide employees with tax-free payments to purchase health insurance coverage on the individual market, or face a large excise tax penalty. The ACA does not permit employers to pay workers through health reimbursement accounts in lieu of the requirement to offer health insurance. The agency explained that the delay is a result of the speed at which small business insurance exchanges were developed and the amount of time necessary for employers to obtain group health coverage. While business groups support the delay, they continue to urge Congress to permanently reverse the policy.

Lawmakers React to Proposed MA Rates

On February 20, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the proposed Medicare Advantage (MA) rates for 2016. The Administration proposes a reduction of 0.95 percent to the MA program. Following the release of the proposed rule, more than half of the Senate signed on to a letter urging the agency not to cut the program. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 53 lawmakers. The senators wrote that “Regulatory policy changes that affect the program’s funding, year after year, are creating disruption and confusion among beneficiaries who are looking for consistency and predictability and can damage a program that offers value for beneficiaries…At a time of broad agreement on the need to shift U.S. health care to focus on care coordination, quality, and value-based payments, it would
be counterproductive to jeopardize a program that is already driven and aligned toward these goals.” The new rate proposal is modest compared to the proposed 1.9 percent cut last year. In past years, members of Congress have opposed cuts to the MA program during the rate setting cycle. MA has managed to avoid cuts in recent years thanks to strong congressional opposition from members like former Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who retired at the end of the 113th Congress. This year’s letter marks the first time Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Sen. Rand Paul (RKy.),
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have signed on in opposition to MA rate cuts. MA covers approximately one third of Medicare beneficiaries, and participation in the program is currently at an all time high.

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