Use of Electronic Medical Records may be associated with higher Medicare costs

A report by the Center for Public Integrity has found that between 2001 and 2010, thousands of providers have started using more expensive Medicare billing codes, while decreasing the use of cheaper ones. 

The report examined Medicare claims from 2001 through 2010, and found:

  • Doctors increasingly billed Medicare for longer and more complex office visits between 2001 and 2010, even though there is little evidence they spent more time with patients or that their patients required more care.  
  • It is estimated that this increase in charges to Medicare has cost taxpayers at least $11 billion.
  • Some of the most dramatic surges in higher-cost billing codes have occurred in hospital emergency rooms.
  • There is geographical variation in using the higher paying codes – some cities use these codes two to three times more often than others.

The article states that Medicare regulators worry that the coding levels may be accelerating in part because of increased use of electronic health records, which make it easy to create detailed patient files with just a few mouse clicks.  The New York Times has also done an analysis of Medicare Billing codes over the past decade, and has made a similar conclusion. 

(Sources: The Advisory Board Daily Briefing, http://advisory.com, September 24, 2012; The Center for Public Integrity, http://www.publicintegrity.org/, September 24, 2012; The New York Times, September 21, 2012)