ACR’s Peters weighs in on multitude of docs facing MU penalties

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Last week CMS announced that more than 257,000 physicians—that’s more than half of all docs treating Medicare patients—will be docked 1 percent in 2015 for failing to meet their 2013 Meaningful Use goals. The fallout from the federal program’s critics was swift and pointed. This week imagingBiz asked ACR to weigh in on behalf of radiologists.

Almost immediately upon CMS’s announcement, the American Medical Association led the charge in decrying the damage. In published comments attributed to Steven Stack, MD, the AMA’s president-elect, the group said it was “appalled” and called on CMS to overhaul the MU program so as to make it workable within the “regulatory tsunami” now facing physicians.

“The overlapping and often conflicting patchwork of laws and regulations must be fixed and aligned to ensure physicians are able to move to innovative payment and delivery models that could improve the quality of care,” said Stack.

Michael Peters, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the American College of Radiology, said that, apart from radiation oncology, few if any members of the ACR community would be affected by this round of penalties. Diagnostic radiologists have been automatically excused, he pointed out, under CMS’s significant-hardship exception.

Meanwhile, however, many of the doctors taking hits are referrers to, and colleagues of, radiologists. Does ACR stand in solidarity with AMA and those for whom it speaks?

“I don’t know if ‘standing in solidarity’ is the way I would put it,” Peters replied in a phone conversation with imagingBiz. “ACR and all the other specialty societies—AMA and almost all physician groups I can think of that are active in DC—have been harping on the fact that this program has areas that need to be changed.”

He said the vast numbers of penalized physicians point to the need for CMS to “greatly increase flexibility and optionality” in the program’s participation requirements.

“There needs to be a radical overhaul,” said Peters.

He said the MU program’s nuance and complexity have built a virtual barrier that’s been blocking physicians who would otherwise be participating if the program were as simple as, for example, the e-prescribing (eRx) incentive program.

Asked about his hopes for such progress coming to pass in 2015, given the first Congress led by a single party in four years, Peters said he expects more of the same from both parties—but “there are things they could do to improve the situation for sure. This rulemaking that’s coming up now, in early 2015, was written months ago and is already past the point where they would be in panic mode” and so rush to make fixes.

However, in the following rulemaking cycle, “CMS is probably going to revisit their framework and try to make some of these changes to get more people participating,” Peters said. “I think they will feel the heat to do that. And I think we will start to see the effect of some of these lower-than-acceptable participation numbers seep into the way that CMS revises their regulations.”

From October to December, Peters’ ACR department conducted a survey exploring radiologists’ motivations behind their MU participation or nonparticipation. Click here for results and Peters’ summary