In March, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) released its biannual report to Congress on matters affecting the Medicare program. MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues relating to Medicare.

Though the March report includes several policy proposals, one of the most significant is MedPAC’s recommendation that Congress eliminate the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) passed as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). The report formalizes a vote the Commission took back in January to recommend repealing MIPS and replacing it with a voluntary value program (VVP) that MedPAC predicts would better achieve the goals put forth in MACRA. Continue Reading MedPAC Recommends Significant Changes to MACRA

Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that new Medicare cards would be issued starting next month. As we previously reported, the government has been planning to revamp the card to reduce fraud. Medicare cards have historically included a SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) that was an easy target for identity thieves and fraudsters. A new randomly-generated Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) will replace the HICN on the new cards.

The move to issue new cards was set in motion by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which requires SSNs to be removed from Medicare identification cards within four years after MACRA’s enactment.

CMS will have a transition period during which either the HICN or the MBI can be used to exchange data with CMS. The transition period is set to begin no earlier than April 1, 2018, and run through December 31, 2019.

For those looking for additional information, CMS has created presentations explaining the card’s impact on different health care industry stakeholders.

As a part of our ongoing blog series we have provided details on the structure, funding, and outlook of several expiring health care provisions, that we’ve referred to as the health care minibus. The minibus includes all of the health care extenders left behind from the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). Health care extenders refer to a number of temporary policies that need reauthorization or annual appropriations, including but not limited to, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, community health center funding, therapy caps, special needs plans (SNPs), and Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payment reductions.

In this post we will discuss Medicaid DSH funding cuts and recent activity to address such cuts. Continue Reading Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments: A Minibus Rider

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a proposed rule last week regarding the cancellation of three bundled payment models and an incentive payment model while also reducing the scope of a third type of payment model. These models were mandatory for hospitals in certain geographic areas. The current administration had delayed the implementation of these models until January 1, 2018.   Continue Reading CMS Proposes to Cancel Bundled Payment and Incentive Models

HealthLaw_stethoscope2The Trump administration is considering releasing a rule to ease the burden that small practices are facing in trying to comply with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), according to a recent report in The Hill.

By way of background, MACRA consolidates a number of existing reporting programs into a two-track system under which eligible clinicians will receive incentive reimbursement payments through either the Merit-Based Incentive Payment Systems (MIPS) or through certain alternative payment models (APMs). Under MIPS, eligible clinicians can receive incentive payment (or penalties) based on their reporting of various measures. (For a detailed discussion of MACRA and these reporting requirements, see our prior post.) Alternatively, clinicians can be reimbursed under the second track if they participate in an “Advanced APM,” which include certain accountable care organizations (ACOs) and patient-centered medical homes. Continue Reading Insiders Say New MACRA Rule Likely as Providers Look to Sec. Price to Ease Burden

shutterstock_282978377Although telehealth has the potential to improve or maintain quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries, payment and coverage restrictions create barriers that prevent providers from fully utilizing telehealth technologies. That is the core finding of a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this month on telehealth and remote patient monitoring use for Medicare beneficiaries.

The GAO report was issued as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which included a provision for the GAO to study telehealth and remote patient monitoring. In compiling the report, the GAO interviewed representatives of nine provider, patient, and payor associations who provided feedback on, among other things, barriers to providing telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries. Continue Reading GAO Report: Medicare Reimbursement Policies Impede Telehealth Adoption

Last week, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report analyzing CMS’ readiness to implement major parts of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act  of 2015 (MACRA). The report provides an inside look at the steps CMS is taking to implement MACRA’s Quality Payment Program (QPP), which is an ambitious transformation of the way in which the federal government reimbursements health care providers. The report highlights two key vulnerabilities for the MACRA transition, a process that will hopefully be smoother than the troubled roll out of HealthCare.gov.

Continue Reading OIG Report Offers Glimpse into CMS Progress Towards MACRA Implementation

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”), created in 1997, helps states provide health care coverage to low-income children up to age 19 whose families fall above the Medicaid eligibility threshold but are unable to afford private insurance. Over the past ten years, federal funding for CHIP has steadily increased.  Congress reauthorized CHIP in 2015 through MACRA, but the program, which represents one of the last remaining annual (or semi-annual) vehicles for Congress to advance health policy initiatives, will lapse September 30, 2017.  CHIP has traditionally received bipartisan support but the question of whether to continue funding the program has recently been at issue.

For the past several years, some experts believed CHIP would slowly wind down as the uninsured rate for children dropped in light of other coverage options under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the period of 2013-2015 saw the largest decline in uninsured children ever going from 7.1 to 4.8 percent uninsured.  While the ACA provides additional coverage options for low-income families, CHIP remains popular because in some cases it offers better benefits at lower costs than plans on the exchanges.  This was the subject of debate during the last reauthorization, and in the lead up to MACRA’s passage, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (“MACPAC”) advised Congress “to extend federal CHIP funding for a transition period of two additional years, during which time policies can be developed to address concerns about affordability and adequacy, with the ultimate goal being integration of children in Medicaid, employer-sponsored, or exchange coverage depending upon their family circumstances.”

Currently, low-income children who are not eligible for Medicaid have three options for healthcare coverage: through their parents’ employer-based plan, through an exchange plan under the ACA, and through CHIP. These three coverage options differ in the benefits offered and cost-sharing requirements for families.  As Republicans determine the fate of CHIP in 2017 and beyond, they will need to consider if coverage variations for low-income children should continue.  In other words, when approaching the ACA, Republicans need to keep in mind the positive aspects of CHIP that may not be included in the current marketplace or employer-based plans.

CHIP has been a bipartisan program throughout its existence, but decisions about whether to extend the program are inextricably tied to decisions regarding the ACA.

Most of the post-election discussion of the ACA has focused on how promises to repeal the law could impact the newly insured. But one priority area of the ACA that has received very little discussion is the federal government’s strategy to try to reign in health care costs by reducing volume and promoting quality.  Complicating the push to fully repeal the ACA is the fact that key elements of the ACA’s cost control strategy have found their way into the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) passed by Congress in 2015.

MACRA was passed on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, creating a two-track system for Medicare provider reimbursement incentive payments. On one track is the more traditional fee-for-service reimbursement structure that will be subject to payment adjustments under a consolidated quality reporting system called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The second track, which entails greater incentive payments, addresses reimbursement for providers participating in alternative payment models (APMs) like accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other demonstration programs that have been created under CMS’s Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). We discussed these changes at length in our post last month.

While the sweeping Republican election victory portends extensive changes in many areas of health care, MACRA is not likely to see extensive changes–at least not directly.  Moving payment policy away from volume and towards quality was a goal for all the Congressional offices participating in the construction of MACRA. However, the implementation of MACRA could still face challenges if Congressional Republicans decide to repeal or constrain the ACA sections that give CMS the authority to operate the CMMI. Such a move would not be outside the realm of possibility; as we previously discussed, the CMMI has been a frequent target of criticism by Congressional Republicans. A full repeal of the ACA, or even limitations to the CMMI’s authority or budget, could cripple the government’s ability to operate the demonstration projects that are the cornerstones of MACRA.

Stakeholders need to engage with CMS moving forward, albeit a CMS under new management, to ensure that changes to the ACA do not have unintended consequences on MACRA’s implementation.  CMS may seek to streamline the numerous payment policies that have been proposed under the current Administration. Alternatively, it is possible that CMS will be active in creating its own versions of alternative payment models. One area of potential focus for further reform might be the so-called ACO Track 2 and 3 under the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), participation in which will now make providers eligible to receive APM incentive payments. Yet CMMI to date has struggled to find the right mix of payment reform, such as requiring two-sided risk, with payment incentives to show significant MSSP savings. In either case, the provider community will be closely watching the developments related to this already complex and daunting transition.

Today, our colleagues at ML Strategies released their first look at what the results of Tuesday’s election mean for health care.  The client alert addresses both the lame duck session and what to expect in 2017 and beyond.  Key issues areas include the future of the Affordable Care Act, MACRA, drug pricing, and FDA User Fee Act reauthorization.

In the coming days, ML Strategies will be sharing further insight into what the election means for health care and what to expect from the new administration and Congress.