CMS Expands Exemptions and Flexibility in Final MACRA Rule

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

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

On October 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a 2,171-page final rule for the implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). CMS had issued a proposed rule on April 27 and in the intervening period, more than 100,000 physicians and other stakeholders attended outreach sessions and CMS received more than 4,000 public comments on the proposed rule, with many of the expressed concerns pertaining to the start date for MACRA’s first performance period.

MACRA’s Quality Payment Program replaces the unpopular sustainable growth rate formula and defines how physicians in physician practices—not hospitals—will be reimbursed by Medicare. It features two alternative, interrelated pathways: the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and advanced alternative payment models (APMs). MIPS is designed for providers in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, while the advanced APMs are for providers who are participating in specific value-based care models, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs).

Small physician practices with less than $30,000 in Medicare charges or that see fewer than 100 Medicare patients per year are exempt from MIPS. According to an analysis by the American Medical Association, 30 percent of physicians are below one or both of these thresholds. In addition, providers new to Medicare in 2017 are also exempt (though just for the first year).

The proposed rule specified Jan. 1, 2017, as the start date for the first performance period under MIPS, which would drive calendar year 2019 payment based on performance in 2017 across the four MIPS categories: Quality, Advancing Care Information, Clinical Practice Improvement Activities, and Cost/Resource Use. The final rule allows providers to start collecting performance data anytime between Jan. 1 and Oct. 2, 2017, with data due to CMS by Mar. 31, 2018.

Under MIPS, physicians can earn in 2019 a payment adjustment that is neutral, up to 4 percent positive, or up to 4 percent negative, depending on their level of participation, the amount of data submitted, and the length of the performance period reported. The adjustment increases to plus or minus 5 percent in 2020, plus or minus 7 percent in 2021, and plus or minus 9 percent in 2022. CMS projects that 592,000 to 642,000 clinicians will submit data for MIPS during the first performance year.

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Breakdown of the Final MACRA Rule

Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.

Abhinav Shashank
Abhinav Shashank

A new complex rule is about to change the entire US healthcare industry. It will replace the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and streamline the three programs. The NPRM for MACRA was passed in 2015 and after the comments and feedbacks from numerous healthcare experts, the final rule with comment period has been released by CMS.

In the final rule, CMS has responded to more than 4,000 comments in a document which is more than 2,300 pages long. Some of these comments have been implemented in the law. As a result of this feedback friendly approach, substantial changes have been made.

The New MACRA after changes

The law aims to bring in unified policies that will add greater value to the healthcare system through the new Quality Payment Program (QPP). The program rewards for value in two ways:

Chance to adapt

To help the physicians get used to the program CMS has declared the first year — 2017 — as “transition” year. There will be four options available to physicians in the transition year:

Merit-based Incentive Payment System

Under this program, eligible clinicians will get payment adjustments based on the quality, cost and other measures related to care. This program will see the “sunset” of three existing programs namely:

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MIPS: All You Need to Know About It

Guest post by Abhinav Shashank, CEO and co-founder, Innovaccer.

Abhinav Shashank
Abhinav Shashank

According to a survey almost 50 percent of the physicians do not understand MACRA. With less than five months to full implementation of MACRA, are we ready to embrace one of the most elaborate laws of US? And, most importantly, will it produce the needed positive outcomes? The program is expected to improve the current standards, sort the most persistent problems and create opportunities to rework and revise Medicare. How will all this happen?

With MACRA in place, there won’t be two digit payment cuts like in the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Besides enhancing the use of electronic health records, MACRA is expected to increase the relevance of Medicare to the real world and reduce the administrative burden from physicians’ shoulders.

Decoding MIPS

MIPS stands for Merit-Based Incentive Payment System. It will streamline the three independent programs Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), meaningful use, and value-based modifier to ease the burden on the clinicians. The three components in MIPS will replace these programs. Besides this, one more component will be there to bring improvements in practice. Namely following components will be there in MIPS:

1.) Quality: This component will replace the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). Under MIPS the methods of reporting and the various quality measures have been adopted from the old programs PQRS and VBM. There are some changes in the reporting methods and for the registry, EHR, and Qualified Clinical Data Registry (QCDR) reporting methods, a clinician can select minimum six measures which could be a combination of any quality domain. If the clinician faces patients, then he has to select in such a way that one of these measures is cross-cutting measure (cross-domain-cutting), and one is outcome-based measure. If there is no outcome-based measure, then a high priority measure has to be selected.

Besides these six measures, CMS will calculate two or three more measures depending on the size of the group of physicians. For instance, if there is an individual physician or a group less than 10 then two measures and if more than that then three measures. Additionally, for QCDR and registry reporting methods, the “data completeness” standard has been changed. The number of patients to be reported within a measure denominator has been raised from 50 percent to 90 percent.

2.) Advancing Care Information: According to MIPS the meaningful use program will see a lot of changes. Currently, the meaningful use program is everything-or-nothing; i.e., if one clinician achieves a performance rate of 20 percent on meaningful use measures and another achieves 90 percent then they both get rewards in a similar fashion. However, under ACI the latter one gets 10 out of 10 points, and the former gets three points.

More than 100 ACI performance points have been defined out of which base 50 are base points given for reporting either “yes” or a non-zero numerator. The performance scores are up to 80 points based on the performance on eight measures. Rest bonus points are awarded for reporting any other public health registry.

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