Hospital industry pushes for changes to health information technology incentive program

The American Hospital Association is increasing its pressure on lawmakers to allow large hospital systems to apply for several federal incentive payments for adopting electronic health records.

In an advocacy alert sent to its members Thursday, the AHA requests that its members press lawmakers to get on board legislation that would tweak regulations released in July. The AHA wants to amend a provision that says hospitals with multiple campuses are only eligible for one incentive payment if they share the same Medicare provider number.

"This portion of the rule does not reflect congressional intent to treat hospitals equitably for purposes of federal incentives; nor does it recognize the costs of implementing EHRs across different institutions within a single hospital system," the AHA alert says.

The bill supported by the AHA was introduced just before the August recess by Reps. Zack Space (D-Ohio) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas). Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sponsored the Senate companion.

High-ranking Democrats — including Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and Health subpanel Chairman Pete Stark (D-Calif.) — also support the change, increasing the chances that the bill could pass before the midterm elections or during the lame-duck session.

Last year's recovery act set aside $1 billion in incentive payments for early adopters of electronic health records. Healthcare providers who don't go paperless by 2015 will be penalized through lower Medicare reimbursements.