Is MACRA Ruining Healthcare?

Posted on January 22, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

If you watch social media, physician forums or other places physicians gather, you’d be sure to hear complaining about MACRA and it’s partner in crime MIPS. Some are even still complaining about things like meaningful use and PQRS even though those have all been rolled into MACRA/MIPS now. At the end of the day, I don’t know a single doctor that likes MACRA and MIPS.

I take some of this with a grain of salt because I don’t know a single doctor who likes charting a patient visit either. This was true in the paper chart world and is just as true in the EHR world. Why would a doctor find joy in recording data from a patient visit? That’s like asking a lawyer if they like writing really long legal briefs or contracts full of legalese. We’d all rather just do the fun parts of our job. In medicine that’s seeing the patient, treating the patient, etc.

Charting will never be seen as fun, but doctors do it because it’s necessary to get paid. Although, this oversimplifies it. Doctors are amenable to charting the patient visit because having that information could help them at a future visit. Having a record of what happened at various visits is useful to the doctor the next time you come to see them. So, between reimbursement and continuity of care, there are clear benefits to why a doctor needs to record the visit.

This is the real problem with MACRA and MIPS. There’s no clear benefit to doctor for participating in MACRA and MIPS. At least with meaningful use there was a clear $44k payment that they’d receive. MIPS is much more nebulous and it’s revenue neutral so doctors really don’t know how much they’re going to be paid for participating.

Certainly, there are a whole lot of other nebulous reasons why a doctor should participate including physician reputation damage, lower provider compensation, diminished practice value, and even the ability to obtain and maintain loans. Some of these are going to hit doctors in the face and it’s going to hurt. However, most practices aren’t thinking in these terms. It takes a pretty wide vision to see all of these potential issues.

What about the clinical value associated with MACRA and MIPS? The studies haven’t really shown much clinical value. There’s a lot of hope around what could be done, but not any clear evidence of the benefits. Especially the benefits related to the specific MACRA requirements vs using an EHR generally.

All of this leaves doctors I know upset with MACRA and MIPS. They wish it would go away and that the government would stop being so involved in their practice.

The challenge I have with this idea is that many blame MACRA and MIPS for everything that’s wrong with EHR use and implementation in healthcare. Let’s imagine for a minute that Congress was functional enough to pass a law that would get rid of all of MACRA. Then what? Would doctor’s problems be solved?

We all know that healthcare would still have plenty of problems. In fact, doing away with MACRA would do very little to alleviate the burden doctors are experiencing in healthcare today. They’d all celebrate MACRA’s death, but then they’d realize the impact would be pretty small.

I’m not suggesting that just because it would only have a small impact it shouldn’t be done. Healthcare got to where we are because we were unwilling or unable to make the incremental changes that would improve the healthcare system. Now the problems are so big and complex that they’re much harder to solve. I’m am suggesting that there are bigger fish to fry than MACRA.

That said, I would suggest an overhaul and simplification of MACRA. I’d suggest we take all the requirements and pass them through this question “What does this requirement do to improve patient care?” If this were the test, I think MACRA would look significantly different. In fact, it might mean that MACRA should really just be interoperability, ePrescribing, and a HIPAA risk assessment (which we could argue is already required by HIPAA). Imagine the value patients would get if we blew MACRA up and just replaced it with interoperability requirements which have no natural incentive in our current system. That’s something I think doctors could get behind.

At the end of the day, MACRA could be improved. It should scare us that very few doctors are fans of it. However, we also should be careful to not overstate MACRA’s impact on healthcare. There are plenty of other issues we have to deal with as well.