Tag: Medicare

HHS’ Vision Casting and the Private Sector’s Positive Response

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

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

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.

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MGMA: Medicare Physician Quality Reporting Programs Not Improving Patient Quality, Needlessly Complex

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.

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The History of the Sustainable Growth Rate, and How Its Repeal and ACOs are Linked

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

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.

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CMS Proposes Changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program Quality Measures

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

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

In the wake of mixed initial results for the Pioneer ACO Model and Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), this is the year for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to take the feedback it has received and revamp its ACO programs.

The proposed rule for the 2015 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), a 609-page document released on June 19, 2014, interestingly included the first installment of modifications to the ACO programs. The proposed rule devoted 52 pages to changes to the quality measures for the MSSP. Throughout the document, CMS emphasized its intent to align the numerous physician quality reporting programs, such as the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for Eligible Professionals and the MSSP, as much as possible, to reduce the administrative burden on the eligible professionals and group practices participating in these programs.

The final rule for the MSSP, issued in November 2011, presented 33 quality measures against which ACOs would be measured. These quality measures also apply to Pioneer ACOs. The measures pertain to four domains: patient/care giver experience, care coordination/patient safety, preventive health, and at-risk populations.

The proposed rule recommends the addition of the following 12 new measures:

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Some Early Results and Optimism for Medicaid ACOs

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

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

Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are primarily associated with Medicare or commercial payer-led arrangements. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also authorized limited demonstrations that allow states to test Pediatric ACOs from 2012-2016. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided guidance letters to several state Medicaid directors on how to implement integrated care models, which may include ACOs, in their Medicaid programs.

With this encouragement from CMS and the need to rein in Medicaid spending—which is generally increasing due to the ACA and is shared by the federal government and states—it is estimated that about half of the states are at some stage of planning Medicaid ACOs.

This emerging trend runs counter to a couple of the conventional caveats about ACOs—they won’t scale to handle large populations, and they won’t work with patients who are economically disadvantaged.

However, these caveats are being challenged by the experiences of Colorado, Utah and Oregon, respectively, as well as the plans for North Carolina’s Medicaid ACO program.

Colorado’s Accountable Care Collaborative (ACC) has been in existence since 2011 and today has more than 350,000 members, almost half of the state’s Medicaid population. The ACC has focused on connecting members with their primary care physicians, using care coordinators, and leveraging analytics extensively.

According to the report on the ACC’s most recent fiscal year, which ended in June 2013, the program generated gross savings of $44 million, returning $6 million to the state after expenses. It accomplished this in part by reducing hospital re-admissions by between 15 percent and 20 percent and decreasing the use of high-cost imaging services by 25 percent versus a comparison population prior to implementation of the program. In addition, relative to clients not enrolled in the ACC program, it slowed the growth of emergency department utilization, lowered rates of exacerbated chronic health conditions (e.g., hypertension by 5 percent and diabetes by 9 percent), and reduced hospital admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients by 22 percent. Most importantly, Colorado has seen improved health for the ACC member population.

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Medicare Fraud Strike Force Charges 90 People for $260 million in False Billing

Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today that a nationwide takedown by Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in six cities has resulted in charges against 90 individuals, including 27 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $260 million in false billings.

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Sebelius were joined in the announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, FBI Assistant Director Joseph Campbell, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson and Deputy Administrator and Director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Program Integrity Shantanu Agrawal.

This coordinated takedown is the seventh national Medicare fraud takedown in Strike Force history.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.

Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged almost 1,900 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for almost $6 billion.  In addition, CMS, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, has suspended enrollments of high-risk providers in five Strike force locations and has removed over 17,000 providers from the Medicare program since 2011.

The joint Department of Justice and HHS Medicare Fraud Strike Force is a multi-agency team of federal, state and local investigators designed to combat Medicare fraud through the use of Medicare data analysis techniques and an increased focus on community policing.  Almost 400 law enforcement agents from the FBI, HHS-OIG, multiple Medicaid Fraud Control Units and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies participated in the takedown.

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CMS Proposed Rule for the Inpatient Prospective Payment System: Taking a Closer Look at the Numbers

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

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

On April 30, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued its proposed rule for the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS), which pays about 3,400 acute care hospitals, and the Long-term Care Hospital Prospective Payment System (LTCH PPS), which pays about 435 LTCHs.

The issuance of this proposed rule is a significant event, as it discloses CMS’s intent regarding the average change (increase or decrease) to the IPPS reimbursement rate, what one might call an “annual inflation adjustment.”

While CMS projects that the payment rate update to general acute care hospitals will be 1.3 percent in FY 2015—which on the face of it doesn’t look too bad—it’s important to understand how CMS arrived at that figure, what is the projected overall impact on hospital payments because of other regulatory changes, and how the proposed update compares with the recommendation of the nonpartisan Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).

How did CMS arrive at the 1.3 percent update (adjustment)?

CMS started with a proposed annual market basket update (inflation projection) from research firm IHS of 2.7 percent. That starting point was then reduced, per the Affordable Care Act, by a multi-factor productivity adjustment of 0.4 percent and a specified reduction to the market basket update of 0.2 percent, yielding 2.1 percent. Then CMS reduced it by a documentation and coding recoupment adjustment (basically to correct for past, unintended documentation and coding over payments) of 0.8 percent, resulting in a net update of 1.3 percent.

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The Unlikelihood of Sustainable Growth Rate Reform this Year

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

In mid-September, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the cost of H.R. 2810, a permanent Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) repeal or “doc fix,” would be $175.5 billion from 2014 through 2023, up from the CBO’s estimates of $139.1 billion in May and $138 billion in February for freezing (i.e., holding flat) all Medicare physician rates for 10 years.

H.R. 2810 would be more costly, as it does not freeze rates, it raises them slightly. As with all other SGR reform bills, its implementation would avoid an estimated 24.4 percent reduction to Medicare physician payment rates that is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, but the bill would also increase payment rates by 0.5 percent per year during 2014-2018. That change would increase federal spending by $63.5 billion through 2018, relative to the spending projection under the SGR.

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The Weak Underbelly of Sustainable Growth Rate Reform Proposals

Perez

Guest post by Ken Perez, Director of Healthcare Policy and Senior Vice President of Marketing, MedeAnalytics, Inc.

What do all of these pieces of legislation or plans have in common?

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One-on-one with digiChart’s CEO Phil Suiter

Phil Suiter, CEO digiChart

To this point in the meaningful use experiment, Phil Suiter, CEO of digiChart, has had the privilege of sitting at the front of one of healthcare’s greatest movements. From his place, he’s watched the market act and react, and has seen colleagues seek solutions to corner their respective markets all in the name of providing the best service for the most people.

Suiter, however, may have a view of the current health IT landscape like no other. Leading a specialty only provider of electronic health records and practice management systems, digiChart serves only OBGYNs.

Long before healthcare reform and the thought of meaningful use, digiChart created and built solutions solely for this space, and, unaplogoetically, will continue to serve the space. Plans for expansion may one day include moving into the pediatrician market, which seems to be a safe bet given the connection between the two specialties, but according to Suiter, that’s not a plan actively being pursued.

What’s interesting about digiChart’s position, as Suiter tells it, is that even though meaningful use is vitally important to digiChart and the company has helped many physician achieve stage 1, OBGYNs have not voraciously jumped aboard the program.

What this means, he says, is that it’s a clear sign that the OBGYN market continues to live up to its reputation as a fiercely independent group of healthcare providers. Suiter said that only 20 percent of all digiChart’s clients have chosen to pursue meaningful use. Apparently, the other 80 percent have chosen to overlook the federal incentives and go at it alone.

From conversations he’s had with clients, they’re just are not seeing the benefit of meaningful use, especially for all of the work required with the only benefit is $44,000 over five years.

“At this particular point, they don’t realistically see a flip side in changing. In some practices, some have decided that they are better off without changing,” Suiter said. “Practices have determined that they can survive and be profitable if they are efficient and continue doing what they are doing, especially in the OBGYN space.”

Being profitable means they’ll ultimately forego Medicare patients to avoid the federal penalties levied against them for not meeting meaningful use. In many cases, they don’t see enough Medicare and Medicaid patients to make all the effort worth their while, Suiter said, so the work required simply is not worth the effort.

And, frankly, the question remains: Is the federal money going to still be available as stage 2 progresses? And, what happens in February 2013, should a new administration take office?

Despite the answers to these questions and whatever happens with the election in November, Suiter sees plenty of change ahead for the market. For example, EHR vendor contraction is coming after a period of great anticipation.

He predicts the market will dramatically shrink from more than 400 companies to less than 100, many fewer of them actually viable and sustainable long term.

At the same time, he believes hospital’s appetite for buying and owning private practices will disintegrate as soon as 12 months from now.

“I think we’ll see a disgorgement of practices by hospital systems within the next 12 to 18 months,” Suiter said, marking the end of a repeat performance last seen in the mid-1990s (1995, ’96 and ’97, he said specifically).

Hospitals have been voraciously trying to align themselves with private practice to capitalize on funds generated from meaningful use; however, they don’t seem capable of effectively managing private practices and their employees as they seem to be able to do with their internal systems and hospital employees, he said.

Private practices are too independent, for the most part, he said; especially, OBGYNs.

The fiercely independent group of physicians might have all the leverage they need to withstand outside pressure for adopting new technologies or changing the way they run there businesses at this point in their careers.

Why?

The average physician in the OBGYN space is 62 years old. At this point in their careers, they are not particularly interested in becoming hospital employees and if they are not interested pursuing meaningful use, which seems to be the case, they’ll either retire or go their own way.

Clearly, the technology used in healthcare will gain greater acceptance as new doctors enter the space. As colleges begin to implement the systems to train their residents (which they are not readily doing now), perhaps the appetite within the space will change. Clearly, there’s room for more adoption in the market Suiter serves.

But, digiChart is positioned well, serving a market it, and Suiter, understand, and know they’re place – as leaders – in it. There are very few vendors that can represent the specialty space well, especially in the land grad market of one-size-fits-all solutions penetrating the market. DigiChart and Suiter seem to understand that sometimes it’s better not to be the jack of all trades, but a master of one.

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