Health care providers that want to participate in the new Medicare accountable care organization (ACO) program are supposed to move toward being “meaningful users” of electronic health records (EHR).

Analysts at the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Washington, have published that conclusion in a commentary on the new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ACO proposed rule.

An ACO is supposed to be a vehicle for paying teams of health care providers to provide PPACA toolkitand manage care for whole patients, instead of paying for care one service at a time.

Section 3022 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires Medicare to set up a Medicare Shared Savings Program that will promote use of Medicare ACOs starting in 2012.

Health policy experts have expressed mixed feelings about whether ACOs will hold down health care costs, but many more support efforts to encourage doctors and hospitals to make more use of electronic health records, to cut down health care and health insurance administration costs.

The federal government has been developing multi-stage standards for shifting providers to adoption of EHR systems.

The proposed federal rules require 50% of ACO program participants to be meaningful users of EHR technology by the second year of the Medicare ACO program contract, and, if federal regulators complete the “Stage 2″ meaningful use guidance by January 2013, participating providers may have to meet the Stage 2 meaningful use milestones, Deloitte analysts say.

- Allison Bell

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