By Chris Hakim, general manager and senior vice president, eHealth.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers face growing pressure from legislators, employers and consumers to control prescription drug costs, which have increased by as much as 15 percent between 2008 and 2016. In late February, a congressional committee grilled executives from seven pharmaceutical companies over relentless price hikes and common industry practices that block competition. All along the health care chain, demands for greater transparency and calls to put consumers first are getting louder.
Clearly, there is no magic bullet to tame rising pharmaceutical costs. There is, however, evidence that absent political action, technology can be an effective weapon against price inflation. We witness this dynamic first hand at eHealth, most prominently among seniors, who are putting the power of information and effective technology-based tools to work for themselves as they shop for Medicare coverage.
What’s more, we’ve seen the use of online transparency tools grow. During the recent the 2019 Medicare open enrollment period, eHealth’s provider lookup tool was used by 47 percent of people shopping for 2019 coverage compared to just 5 percent the year before. In addition, 30 percent of people buying Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans used the tool compared to 18 percent during the previous annual enrollment period. And nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of customers who bought Medicare Part D plans through eHealth used the online prescription drug coverage comparison tool; those who enrolled in the recommended plan found a median potential annual savings of $531 on prescription drugs.
Data show that seniors are likely to use technology at increasingly higher rates. Four-in-10 now own smartphones, more than double the number in 2013, and 66 percent of individuals 65 and over use the internet, up from 43 percent in 2010. Among so-called “senior surfers,” 53 percent go online for information about health care or medical issues.
By Danielle K. Roberts, a Medicare insurance expert and co-founder, Boomer Benefits.
The telehealth revolution gives health providers the opportunity to assist patients in remote or rural areas; the same kind of care that they give to patients in person. It saves money on travel and improves efficiency in healthcare as well.
While telehealth options in healthcare are helpful to individuals at any stage in life, they can be particularly helpful in treating older adults with chronic illnesses. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have recognized this and have put together guidelines for primary care physicians who treat patients in geographical areas where it may be difficult for those beneficiaries to otherwise gain access to certain specialists and medical experts.
Telehealth services are made available to these Medicare beneficiaries who have signed up for Medicare Part B. Here’s how Medicare covers telemedicine for these people.
Medicare outpatient coverage for telemedicine
Medicare has two original parts: Part A hospital coverage and Part B outpatient coverage. Telehealth services fall under Part B. Medicare Part B will cover a telehealth consultation whenever a consultation is medically necessary, and your Medicare doctor follows the guidelines in arranging the consultation.
The specialist must conduct your teleconsultation using two-way interactive communication that must include both live audio and video feeds. Fortunately, with the prevalence of digital technologies and telehealth platforms, this has become common practice for most healthcare organizations.
The Medicare beneficiary needs to live within designated rural areas, and the video conferencing call must be held at a designated originating site. Approved originating sites include your physician’s office or rural health clinic. Calls can also be conducted from within a federally qualified health center, a skilled nursing facility, inpatient hospital, critical access hospital or community mental health facility.
Yet effective January of this year, CMS instituted important changes to their reimbursement policies that encourage the use of digital health tools. Most significant among these changes is the un-bundling of the Medicare/Medicaid CPT code 99091, a decision that specifically affects the adoption and deployment of remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices. In the past, CMS has only offered financial incentives for live, audiovisual virtual visits, excluding RPM—and thus excluding a major demographic from the possibility of affordable and accessible care. With the un-bundling, financial incentives for RPM are not only available, but also are deployed across multiple providers, allowing nurses and care managers as well as physicians to analyze and monitor data, creating efficiencies and lowering costs.
But while the CPT un-bundling represents an important victory for RPM, it also serves to highlight the policy’s inadequacies and the large margin for growth. With the update, care providers no longer have to worry about fully funding RPM from their original operating budgets, but the reimbursement rate ($60 per patient per month) is still far too low to be effective in most cases. Other requirements, such as a prior wellness visit with the patient and a limit of one charge to the code per month, further restrict its effectiveness.
Perhaps most problematic, while the un-bundling will have an immediate positive impact on patients over the age of 65, a large patient demographic could be outside the bounds of its effects. Commercial plans are under no requirement to follow the updated CPT guidelines, and more importantly, neither is Medicaid. And while Medicaid is the smaller of the two government run-healthcare plans (compare Medicaid’s revenue of $565.5 billion to Medicare’s $672.1 billion), it is outpacing Medicare by 10 percent in rates of spending (increasing by 3.9 percent in 2016 compared to Medicare’s 3.3 percent).
As a provider, you probably have been living with meaningful use in the last many years, and now, MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act), which combines parts of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Value-based Payment Modifier (VBM), and the Medicare electronic health record incentive program into the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, or MIPS.
What really is the part of MIPS that matters, for this year and next, anyway? 2017 is the transition year of MACRA, but you need to report something (for various measures) or lose 4 percent Medicare payment adjustment in 2019. If you make a partial-year (90 consecutive days) report by October 1, depending on how you fare against the CMS’ annual performance benchmark, there may even be a chance to get a positive Medicare payment adjustment. In general, a provider will report in the four MIPS performance categories: quality (weighted 60 percent of total in 2017), cost (not weighted in 2017), improvement activities (loosely “care coordination,” 15 percent ), and Advancing Care Information (“EHR use”, 25 percent). Then in 2018 and 2019, with improvement activities and advancing care information remain the same, the quality category will be weighted 50 percent and 30 percent respectively, giving way to cost (10 percent and 30 percent in each of 2018 and 2019).
This sounds like high school all over again – the authority sets the goals that arguably lead you to learn the materials that matter, and grade you on them. If you score well in the four MIPS performance categories, chances are your operations are running quite well. But deep down, perhaps your priorities are simply to provide great patient care, and get compensated for your expertise and services. Then this high-school approach of grading your services, and you – yes, your performance score will be available publicly on the Physician Compare website – becomes a distraction that few providers like to deal with.
So how will you live with this reality? One approach is to actually embrace and integrate MIPS into your operations! Then all MIPS requirements don’t just become some checkbox items you try to complete, but actually a tool to improve your operations. Here are three ways to “take advantage” of MIPS as a guideline to help you thrive:
Embrace a Data-driven Approach
Run your operations based on data. Many EHRs provide at least some basic level of reports that allow you to keep a finger on the pulse of your operations. Make the relevant reports accessible to your team. For the metrics that are relevant to your operations, dedicate a periodic review session to keep everyone abreast of the numbers, and your targets. To leverage MIPS to improve your bottom line, you will want at least some level of visibility through these reports how working those numbers will bring more revenues and/or patient satisfaction, or lower cost. Then it will become clear MIPS can benefit your operations.
Integrate MIPS Efforts Into Your Workflow
Then the team is to identify and make sure they engage the patients that fall in the categories of the reporting metrics to complete the required actions. While in a smaller clinic, some way of patient tracking; e.g. shared call list, may work fine. If your targets involve hundreds or even thousands of patients over a period of time, an automated, smart workflow approach will serve the situation much better. The smart workflow approach is part of the turnkey service my team at LucidAct built after experiencing such patient-care collaboration problems at San Francisco General Hospital in a consulting engagement. Smart workflows keep track of what have been done by whom for a patient, and conditionally activates the next task(s). It can also automate tasks such as calling a patient. Such care-action details in conjunction with the reports above will reveal how the team’s efforts chisel (or not) off the workloads, and improve the bottom line. Having them available in the review sessions ties the effectiveness of the team’s efforts back to the MIPS targets, allowing you to make adjustments to your operations as needed.
The proposal of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to expand its Recovery Audit Program to Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage (MA) plans is a new step in its efforts to fight fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The move is aimed at identifying overpayments and underpayments made on claims for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. For physicians’ practices, the expanded recovery audit program would mean that they will have to take proactive steps to reduce their risks of falling prey to recovery audits by pay ensuring error-free submission of the claims of MA patients. Outsourcing medical billing and coding is a great option to accomplish this task.
Medicare Advantage (MA) Plans and Allegations of Billing Fraud
MA plans or Medicare Part C are offered by private insurance companies approved by Medicare, which receive payment from Medicare for the coverage provided. There are different types of MA plans which provide all of a Medicare patient’s Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage. Part C plans are different from standard Medicare in that they are paid a set fee every month for each patient based on a complex formula called a risk score. CMS pays higher rates for sicker MA beneficiaries than for those in good health. CMS scrutinizes the diagnosis information reported by MA organizations and calculates risk scores for each enrollee using the Hierarchical Condition Category risk adjustment model. The risk score is calculated based on the enrollee’s demographic characteristics and health conditions. This practice aims to improve the accuracy of Medicare’s payments to MA organizations and reduces the incentives for plans to select only the healthiest beneficiaries.
Identifying Improper Medicare Payments with Recovery Audits
However, in recent years, there have been various reports of overbilling MA plans, costing taxpayers billions of dollars more than warranted. In Jan. 1, 2010, the government set up the Recovery Audit Program to fight fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. It detects overpayments and underpayments for Medicare claims so that CMS can implement actions to prevent improper payments in all 50 states. Under the program, Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) — private companies hired by CMS — have the authority to review medical records at short notice. RACs notify health care providers of the outcomes of the reviews via demand letters. An RAC demand letter would contain details of the problem with a claim, such as the coverage, coding or payment policy that was violated, a description of the overpayment made, recommended corrective actions, and explanations on the provider’s right to submit a rebuttal statement prior to recoupment of any overpayment and appeal and more.
Guest post by Amy Sullivan, vice president of revenue cycle sales, PatientKeeper.
The multi-year run-up to the ICD-10 cut-over last October had a “Chicken Little” quality to it. There was prolonged hand-wringing and hoopla about the prospect of providers losing revenue and payers not processing and paying claims – the healthcare industry equivalent of “the sky is falling.”
Then CMS helped calm things down by announcing last July (as the AMA reported at the time), “For the first year ICD-10 is in place, Medicare claims will not be denied solely based on the specificity of the diagnosis codes as long as they are from the appropriate family of ICD-10 codes.”
Since ICD-10 is all about specificity – the number of diagnosis codes increased approximately four-fold over ICD-9 – this was a big relief to all involved. And, if you believe new research data, the sky indeed has not fallen: Sixty percent of survey respondents “did not see any impact on their monthly revenue following Oct. 1, 2015… Denial rates have remained the same for 45 percent of respondents. An additional 44 percent have seen an increase of less than 10 percent.”
Still one has to wonder what will happen after Oct. 1, 2016, when the current leniency expires and ICD-10 code specificity is required. Will physicians be in a position to enter their charges completely and accurately once “in the general neighborhood” coding no longer suffices?
They will if their organization has invested in technology that adheres to best practices in electronic charge capture system design. The three watch-words are: specialize, simplify and streamline.
A charge capture system is specialized when it exposes only relevant codes to physicians in a particular specialty or department, and when it provides fine-tuned code edits. With different types and processes of workflows (and let’s face it, personal preferences), physicians need an intuitive and personalized application that easily fits into their individual work styles. A tailored user experience allows providers to build and display their patient lists in whatever way is most convenient and meaningful to them – down to lists organized by diagnosis and “favorites.”
The following is an announcement from CMS about potential modifications to the meaningful use program, announced Apr. 10, 2015:
On April 10, 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a new proposed rule for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs to align Stage 1 and Stage 2 objectives and measures with the long-term proposals for Stage 3, to build progress toward program milestones, to reduce complexity, and to simplify providers’ reporting. These modifications would allow providers to focus more closely on the advanced use of certified EHR technology to support health information exchange and quality improvement.
The proposed rule is just one part of a larger effort across HHS to deliver better care, spend health dollars more wisely, and have healthier people and communities by working in three core areas: improving the way providers are paid, improving the way care is delivered, and improving the way information is shared to support transparency for consumers, health care providers, and researchers and to strengthen decision-making.
The proposed rule is a critical step forward in helping to support the long-term goals of delivery system reform; especially those goals of a nationwide interoperable learning health system and patient-centered care. CMS is also simplifying the structure and reducing the reporting requirements for providers participating in the program by removing measures which have become duplicative, redundant, and reached wide-spread adoption (i.e., are “topped out”). This will allow providers to refocus on the advanced use objectives and measures. These advanced measures are at the core of health IT supported health care which drives toward improving the way electronic health information is shared among providers and with their patients, enhancing the ability to measure quality and set improvement goals, and ultimately improving the way health care is delivered and experienced.
Guest post by Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.
We’ve often seen the U.S. federal government announce its intent to drive major changes in the way the healthcare system is run, only to have the private sector respond in a tepid or negative manner.
That was not the case at a January 26 Department of Health and Human Services meeting, at which HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced concrete goals and an aggressive timeline for moving Medicare payments from fee for service to fee for value. Nearly two dozen leaders representing consumers, insurers, providers and business leaders were in attendance and clearly supportive of the vision cast by Burwell. Notably, high-ranking representatives from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) were among the participants.
The announcement was a landmark one. For the first time in the history of the Medicare program, HHS has communicated quantified goals for pushing a significantly greater share of Medicare payments through alternative payment models, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and bundled payments. Such payments will rise from 20 percent ($72.4 billion) of Medicare payments in 2014 to 30 percent ($113 billion) in 2016 and 50 percent ($213 billion) in 2018—a compound annual growth rate of 31 percent over the five-year period.
More than 82 percent of physician group practices responding to the MGMA Physician Practice Assessment: Medicare Quality Reporting Programs* research reported they actively engage in internal processes to improve clinical quality for the patients they serve. Despite this focus, practices were heavily critical of Medicare’s physician quality reporting programs and their impact on patients and practices. More than 83 percent of physician practices stated they did not believe current Medicare physician quality reporting programs enhanced their physicians’ ability to provide high-quality patient care.
In addition to the lack of effectiveness, physician practices reported significant challenges in complying with Medicare quality reporting requirements. More than 70 percent rated Medicare’s quality reporting requirements as “very” or “extremely” complex. In addition, a significant majority of respondents indicated these programs negatively affected practice efficiency, support staff time, and clinician morale.
Next year, 2015, will be a critical year for medical group practices participating under three main Medicare Part B physician quality reporting programs.* It will be the first year all three programs penalize physicians for reporting unsuccessfully, and penalties will continue to grow in future years. When added up, unsuccessful reporting in 2015 will subject physicians and other eligible providers to Medicare payment penalties as high as 11 percent, levied in future years.
Guest post by Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.
Section 4503 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, enacted on Aug. 5, 1997, replaced the Medicare Volume Performance Standard (MVPS) with the sustainable growth rate (SGR) provision, a formulaic approach intended to restrain the growth of Medicare spending on physician services. The SGR formula incorporates medical inflation, the projected growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), projected growth in the number of Medicare beneficiaries, and changes in law or regulation.
The SGR requires Medicare each year to set a total budget for spending on physician services for the following year. If actual spending exceeds that budget, the Medicare conversion factor that is applied to more than 7,400 unique covered physician and therapy services in subsequent years is to be reduced so that over time, cumulative actual spending will not exceed cumulative budgeted (targeted) spending, with April 1, 1996, as the starting point for both.
In part because of the effective lobbying efforts of physicians, Congress has temporarily suspended application of the SGR by passing legislative overrides or “doc fixes” 17 times from 2003 to 2014. (It utilized five different pieces of legislation in 2010 alone to avoid cuts exceeding 20 percent.) As a result, actual spending has exceeded budget every year during these years. Because the annual fee update must be adjusted not only for the prior year’s variance between budgeted and actual spending but also for the cumulative variance since 1996, the next proposed update, effective April 1, 2015, is a reduction in Medicare physician fees of 20.9 percent.
Those hoping for a permanent repeal of the SGR—which is pretty much everybody, given the almost universal disdain for it—entered 2014 with a sense of optimism that this would be the year. These hopes were fueled by bipartisan and bicameral support of SGR reform proposals that emerged at the end of 2013 and significantly lower estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the cost of a long-term doc fix.
Ultimately, the inability to figure out how to pay for the SGR repeal blocked the passage of the permanent reform bills, and Congress settled for yet another short-term patch. On March 27, 2014, the House of Representatives, under a suspension of normal rules, approved via a voice vote H.R. 4302, the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014. The bill provides a patch to the SGR that would avoid a 24.4 percent reduction to Medicare’s Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), effective April 1, 2014, replacing the scheduled reduction with a 0.5 percent increase to the PFS through Dec. 31, 2014, and a 0 percent increase for Jan. 1, 2015, through March 31, 2015. Four days later, the Senate approved H.R. 4302 on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.