HHS Issues Final Meaningful Use Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today released final rules that simplify requirements and add new flexibilities for providers to make electronic health information available when and where it matters most and for health care providers and consumers to be able to readily, safely, and securely exchange that information. The final rule for 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria (2015 Edition) and final rule with comment period for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHRs) Incentive Programs will help continue to move the health care industry away from a paper-based system, where a doctor’s handwriting needed to be interpreted and patient files could be misplaced.

“We have a shared goal of electronic health records helping physicians, clinicians, and hospitals to deliver better care, smarter spending, and healthier people.  We eliminated unnecessary requirements, simplified and increased flexibility for those that remain, and focused on interoperability, information exchange, and patient engagement. By 2018, these rules move us beyond the staged approach of ‘meaningful use’ and focus on broader delivery system reform,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, M.D., M.Sc., CMS deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer. “Most importantly we are seeking additional public comments and plan for active engagement of stakeholders so we take time to get broad input on how to improve these programs over time.”

HHS heard from physicians and other providers about the challenges they face making this technology work well for their individual practices and for their patients. In recognition of these concerns, the regulations announced today make significant changes in current requirements. They will ease the reporting burden for providers, support interoperability, and improve patient outcomes.  Providers can choose the measures of progress that are most meaningful to their practice and have more time to implement changes to program requirements. Providers are encouraged to apply for hardship exceptions if they need to switch or have other technology difficulties with their EHR vendor. Additionally, the new rules give developers more time to create user-friendly technologies that give individuals easier access to their information so they can be engaged and empowered in their care.

As part of today’s regulations, CMS announced a 60-day public comment period to gather additional feedback about the EHR Incentive Programs going forward, in particular with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which established the Merit-based Incentive Payment System and consolidates certain aspects of a number of quality measurement and federal incentive programs into one more efficient framework. We will use this feedback to inform future policy developments for the EHR Incentive Programs, as well as consider it during rulemaking to implement MACRA, which we expect to release in the spring of 2016.

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5 Denials Management Tips for ICD-10 and Beyond

Guest post by Crystal Ewing, senior business analyst and manager of regulatory strategy, ZirMed.

Crystal Ewing
Crystal Ewing

Denial management is an industry-wide challenge—and despite traditional approaches intended to reduce denial rates, it’s one that continues to grow. Frankly, this is absurd.

I say that because, despite the recent announcements from CMS regarding changes to how they will process ICD-10-coded claims for the first year, denials will likely still increase under ICD-10—and that’s something healthcare providers don’t need to suffer in full, because it is possible to reduce their denial rates before ICD-10. Ultimately this will be more impactful than any denial management program specifically targeting ICD-10-related denials, because the “everyday” denials will otherwise endure and continue to delay A/R long after whatever disruption ICD-10 causes has long faded into distant memory.

Here are two simple truths:

So where does this leave healthcare organizations seeking to decrease denials ahead of ICD-10, a change that—despite recent announcements from CMS—is nonetheless likely to bring with it a spike in denials?

Exactly where they’ve always been—in need of straightforward best practices that actually help them drive down everyday denials that create A/R delays, back-office backlogs, and an unreliable revenue cycle.

Step 1: Thoughtful Automation

Let’s step through a common process for working denials, just to clarify why it’s such a headache.

Here are some time-study figures—per each denial, staff spend:

That is unacceptable—which is an opinion. But it’s also unnecessary, and that’s a fact. Each of the time-consuming manual processes mentioned above can be eliminated or significantly reduced through thoughtful automation and workflow-focused software development.

Reducing research time and enabling staff to easily resubmit denied claims are two of the biggest denial management time-savers—period.

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CMS Moves to “Modernize” Medicaid Plans

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

Guest post by Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.

Since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most of the health reform activity in the Medicaid arena has primarily been about expansion of coverage. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as of February 2015, 70.5 million people—more than one in every five Americans—were enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which represents an increase of almost 40 percent from the number enrolled at the end of 2009.

However, on May 26, CMS aimed its sights on improving the quality of care delivered by Medicaid, issuing a 653-page proposed rule to “modernize the Medicaid managed care regulations,” which have not been revised in a decade. The proposed rule faces a public comment period that will continue thru July 27.

The changes presented in the proposed rule would align the regulations governing Medicaid managed care with those of other major sources of coverage, including Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and Qualified Health Plans (QHPs), which are offered thru health insurance exchanges (marketplaces). CMS has said that the proposed Medicaid measures will emphasize evaluating health outcomes and the patient experience enrollees have with private plans. In addition, the proposed rule mandates public reporting of information on quality of care, as well as the use of financial incentives to reward Medicaid managed care plans that meet quality measures, a la Medicare Advantage Star Ratings.

CMS’s announcement has been met with mostly favorable responses. “It was about time for the changes” has been a common refrain, with the revisions viewed as a natural, logical progression.

How big is the market that will be impacted by the changes? Per CMS, Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) have grown from handling 8 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries in 1992 to about 70 percent of the 70 million Medicaid enrollees today—almost 50 million people. That figure compares with 17.3 million MA enrollees as of January 2015.

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CMS Announces Entrepreneurs and Innovators to Access Medicare Data

At Health Datapalooza, the acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator, Andy Slavitt, announced a new policy that for the first time will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to access CMS data, such as Medicare claims. As part of the Administration’s commitment to use of data and information to drive transformation of the healthcare delivery system, CMS will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to conduct approved research that will ultimately improve care and provide better tools that should benefit healthcare consumers through a greater understanding of what the data says works best in health care. The data will not allow the patient’s identity to be determined, but will provide the identity of the providers of care.

CMS will begin accepting innovator research requests in September 2015.

“Data is the essential ingredient to building a better, smarter, healthier system. The announcement is aimed directly at shaking up health care innovation and setting a new standard for data transparency,” said acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt. “We expect a stream of new tools for beneficiaries and care providers that improve care and personalize decision-making.”

Innovators and entrepreneurs will access data via the CMS Virtual Research Data Center (VRDC), which provides access to granular CMS program data, including Medicare fee-for-service claims data, in an efficient and cost effective manner. Researchers working in the CMS VRDC have direct access to approved privacy-protected data files and are able to conduct their analysis within a secure CMS environment.

“Historically, CMS has prohibited researchers from accessing detailed CMS data if they intended to use it to develop products or tools to sell,” said Niall Brennan, CMS chief data officer and director of the Office of Enterprise and Data Analytics. “However, as the delivery system transforms from rewarding volume to value, data will play a key role. We hope that this new policy will lead to additional innovation and insights from the CMS data.”

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CMS Proposes Fiscal Year 2016 Payment and Policy Changes for Medicare Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities

On Apr. 23, 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule outlining proposed fiscal year (FY) 2016 Medicare payment policies and rates for the Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility Prospective Payment System (IRF PPS) and the IRF Quality Reporting Program (IRF QRP). The FY 2016 proposals are summarized below.

Proposed Changes to IRF payment policies and rates:

Changes to the payment rates under the IRF PPS. CMS is proposing to update the IRF PPS payments for FY 2016 to reflect an estimated 1.9 percent increase factor (reflecting a new IRF-specific market basket estimate of 2.7 percent, reduced by a 0.6 percentage point multi-factor productivity adjustment and a 0.2 percentage point reduction required by law). CMS is proposing that if more recent data are subsequently available (for example, a more recent estimate of the market basket or multi-factor productivity adjustment) such data would be used to determine the FY 2016 update in the final rule. An additional 0.2 percent decrease to aggregate payments because of updating the outlier threshold results in an overall update of 1.7 percent (or $130 million), relative to payments in FY 2015.

No changes to the facility-level adjustments. As stated in the FY 2015 IRF PPS final rule (79 FR 45872, 45882 through 45883), CMS froze the facility-level adjustment factors at the FY 2014 levels for FY 2015 and all subsequent years, unless and until we propose to update them again through future notice and comment rulemaking. For FY 2016, CMS will continue to hold the facility-level adjustment factors at the FY 2014 levels as we continue to monitor the most current IRF claims data available to assess the effects of the FY 2014 changes.

ICD-10-CM Conversion. In the FY 2015 IRF PPS final rule (79 FR 45872), CMS finalized conversions from the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) to the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) for the IRF PPS, which will be effective when ICD-10-CM becomes the required medical data code set for use on Medicare claims and IRF?PAI submissions. CMS reminds providers of IRF services that the implementation date for ICD-10-CM is Oct. 1, 2015.

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Timing of the Release of CMS’ Meaningful Use Stage 3 Proposed Rule Suspect

Seems all the chittering was right: The meaningful use Stage 3 proposed rule has been released prior to the annual HIMSS conference, to give all conference goers and government officials in attendance something to talk about.

The news of the rule’s release now comes as no surprise.

The feds like to make these kinds of splashes, to be the bearers of news – any kind of news – especially at big venues where they’re likely to get lots of ink and face time with those in attendance, and the supposed powers that be.

The same thing happened last year at HIMSS when officials, peppered with questions, were vehement that the ICD-10 roll out deadline would not be delayed. Only a few weeks later, federal officials had to walk that back and, untimely, wound up changing the deadline.

These are apples and oranges, I understand, but the grandiosity of the occasion (HIMSS15) means that everyone attending the conference really does need to “bring it.” Vendors, presenters, the feds. At HIMSS, to capture hearts and minds, this is a simple truth — we need to bring it no matter who “we” are.

I’m not trying to be cynical about the announcement or the timing of the proposed Stage 3 rule, but there seems to be something about the nature of its timing that seems suspect. It’s as if CMS wants the news about meaningful use to be relevant. But, as we know, on its own, it is relevant; we all know this.

It’s as if CMS is trying to secure the legacy of a failing program – where as of January 0nly 4 percent of eligible professionals had met meet Stage 2 requirements. It’s sort of like the agency, to make people talk about a once relevant product, is bursting through the HIMSS gates like a has-been celebrity and is announcing, “Don’t worry, we’ll be there.”

How could we forget?

We know you’ll be there, we know we’ll be looking to you for guidance, we know what you have to say is important to us because it impacts the very professions in which we have built our lives.

CMS will make their claims, get us to talk then they’ll ride off into the sunset like Shane.

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CHIME: Low Stage 2 Attestation Numbers Validate Need for Shortened Reporting Period in 2015

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) is reiterating its call to immediately shorten the reporting period for 2015, as substandard meaningful use low Stage 2 attestation numbers lag for the 2014 program year, the organization said in a statement.

According to the data recently released by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) during the Health IT Policy Committee meeting, less than 35 percent of the nation’s hospitals have met Stage 2 meaningful use requirements. While eligible professionals (EPs) have until the end of February to report their progress, just 4 percent have met Stage 2 requirements thus far, CHIME cited.

“Despite policy efforts to mitigate a disastrous program year, today’s release of participation data confirms widespread challenges with Stage 2 meaningful use,” said CHIME president and CEO Russell P. Branzell, FCHIME, CHCIO.

Roughly one in three hospitals scheduled to meet Stage 2 in 2014 had to use alternative pathways to meet MU, administrative data current through December 1 indicates.

“This trend demonstrates how vital new flexibilities were in 2014 and again, underscores the need for the same flexibility in 2015,” said Branzell. “It is imperative officials take immediate action to put this critical transformation program back on track. Shortening the time frame for MU reporting in 2015 will help to ensure the program delivers on its promise to advance the transformation of healthcare in this country.”

CHIME and several other national provider associations have repeatedly told CMS that without more program flexibility and a shortened reporting period in 2015, the future of Meaningful Use is in jeopardy.

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CMS Launches Open Payments Site to Track Financial Offerings to Physicians, Training Hospitals

As part of its ongoing effort to increase transparency and accountability in healthcare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released today the first round of Open Payments data to help consumers understand the financial relationships between the healthcare industry, and physicians and teaching hospitals.

This release is part of the Open Payments program, created by the Affordable Care Act, and lists consulting fees, research grants, travel reimbursements and other gifts the health care industry, such as medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies – provided to physicians and teaching hospitals during the last five months of 2013. The data contains 4.4 million payments valued at nearly $3.5 billion attributable to 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals. Future reports will be published annually and will include a full 12 months of payment data, beginning in June 2015.

“CMS is committed to transparency and this is an opportunity for the public to learn about the relationships among health care providers, and pharmaceutical and device companies,” CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said. “This initial public posting of data is only the first phase of the Open Payments program. In coming weeks, we will be adding additional data and tools that will give consumers, researchers, and others a detailed look into this industry and its financial arrangements.”

Financial ties among medical manufacturers’ payments and health care providers do not necessarily signal wrongdoing. Given the importance of discouraging inappropriate relationships without harming beneficial ones, CMS is working closely with stakeholders to better understand the current scope of the interactions among physicians, teaching hospitals, and industry manufacturers. CMS encourages patients to discuss these relationships with their healthcare providers.

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Think Meaningful Use in 2014 Couldn’t Get Any More Complicated? Think Again

Amy Leopard
Amy Leopard

Guest post by Amy Leopard, partner, and Kevin Alonso, associate, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP.

On Sept. 4, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published a final rule that, effective Oct. 1, 2014, implements changes to the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program in light of industry-wide difficulties in transitioning to EHR technology certified to the 2014 Edition EHR certification criteria (“2014 Edition CEHRT”) during calendar year 2014 for eligible professionals and fiscal year 2014 for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals. CMS makes no changes to the existing 2014 reporting periods or the requirement in future reporting periods to report for a full year.[1] This final rule also extends Stage 2 for an additional year for those providers first demonstrating meaningful use in 2011 or 2012. Instead of starting Stage 3 in 2016, those providers will now start Stage 3 in 2017. The timeframe for Stage 3 implementation by providers that first demonstrated meaningful use after 2012 is unchanged by this final rule.

Kevin Alonso
Kevin Alonso

Prior to these changes, providers were required to use 2014 Edition CEHRT to demonstrate either Stage 1 or Stage 2 meaningful use in 2014. The shortened 2014 attestation periods implemented in the 2012 final rule were aimed at helping providers make the transition from 2011 Edition CEHRT to 2014 Edition CEHRT, but delays affecting the availability of, and the ability of providers to implement, 2014 Edition CEHRT meant that many providers still might be unable to demonstrate meaningful use, despite their best efforts.

To provide some additional flexibility, CMS will now provide three alternatives routes to demonstrate meaningful use in 2014 for providers facing such difficulties: (1) using 2011 Edition CEHRT only, (2) using a combination of 2011 and 2014 Edition CEHRT, or (3) using 2014 Edition CEHRT for Stage 1 objectives and measures in 2014 for providers scheduled to begin Stage 2. These alternatives will also provide some flexibility in the objectives and measures that providers must meet to demonstrate meaningful use, as summarized in the chart below.[2]

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CHIME Issues Statement on Finalization of Meaningful Use “Modifications” Rule

As the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) finalized a regulation granting providers additional flexibility in meeting meaningful use (MU) requirements in 2014, the final rule lacked a key provision that would ensure continued EHR adoption and MU participation, according to CHIME.

CHIME issued as statement stating that the organization is “deeply disappointed in the decision made by CMS and ONC to require 365 days of EHR reporting in 2015. This single provision has severely muted the positive impacts of this final rule. Further, it has all but ensured that industry struggles will continue well beyond 2014.”

According to the statement by CHIME, roughly 50 percent of EHs and CAHs were scheduled to meet Stage 2 requirements this year and nearly 85 percent of EHs and CAHs will be required to meet Stage 2 requirements in 2015. Most hospitals who take advantage of new pathways made possible through this final rule will not be in a position to meet Stage 2 requirements beginning October 1, 2014. This means that penalties avoided in 2014 will come in 2015, and millions of dollars will be lost due to misguided government timelines.

Nearly every stakeholder group echoed recommendations made by CHIME to give providers the option of reporting any three-month quarter EHR reporting period in 2015. “This sensible recommendation, if taken, would have assuaged industry concerns over the pace and trajectory of rulemaking; it would have pushed providers to meet a higher bar, without pushing them off the cliff; and it would have ensured the long-term vitality of the program itself. Now, the very future of Meaningful Use is in question,” said CHIME.