2019 MACRA Final Rule Overview

Posted on November 5, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Joy Rios, Health IT Consultant at Chirpy Bird.

It happened right on time this year. The 2019 MACRA Final Rule was released on Thursday, Nov. 1, the weekend of Daylight Savings Time – so those of us who track these laws carefully got one extra hour to read through the 2878-page document. Thanks CMS!

First, I’d like to point out that we expect the rules to change each year. If fact, my colleague, Robin Roberts, and I often joke that CMS starts writing the next rule before the ink is dry on the one they just released. However, this year it feels like there’s a lot more to get up to speed on than that which we’ve grown accustomed.

The expansion of the rule’s title alone, which is both comprehensive and overwhelming, hints that this year’s ruling is far-reaching and will impact a great many stakeholders across healthcare.

Look for yourself: The difference between the proposed and finalized titles:

Proposed Title:

Medicare Program; Revisions to Payment Policies Under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Quality Payment Program; and Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Program

Finalized Title:

Medicare Program; Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Quality Payment Program; Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Program; Quality Payment Program–Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstance Policy for the 2019 MIPS Payment Year; Provisions from the Medicare Shared Savings Program–Accountable Care Organizations–Pathways to Success; and Expanding the Use of Telehealth Services for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder under the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act

The subtitles from the Finalized rule that I reviewed are broken out below with the main bullet points:

1. Medicare Program; Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019

  1. Supports access to care using telecommunications technology.
  2. Medicare will pay providers for new communication technology-based services, such as brief check-ins between patients and practitioners, and pay separately for evaluation of remote pre-recorded images and/or video.
  3. CMS is also expanding the list of Medicare-covered telehealth services.
  4. CMS is delaying implementation of E&M coding reforms until 2021.

“Physicians will see some immediate changes in 2019 that reduce burden and even more significant burden reduction in 2021, when broader changes to the E&M framework take effect,” said Seema Verma.

2. Quality Payment Program

a. MIPS: 2019 Performance Year

General Program Changes

  1. Amount at risk to Medicare Part B services:
    1. Max 7% penalty
    2. 7x incentive, which could result in an adjustment above or below 7%
  2. Avoid a penalty: 30 points (double the 2018 threshold of 15)
  3. Earn Exceptional Performance to capture part of the $500M bonus pool: 75 points (up from 70 in 2017 & 2018)
  4. Expansion of Eligible Clinician types:
    1. PT, OT, Speech & Language, Audiologists, Clinical Psychologists, Registered Dieticians/Nutrition Professionals
  5. Low-volume threshold now includes a third criterion. To be excluded from MIPS, clinicians or groups need to meet one or more of the three criterion.
  6. New Opt-in policy for clinicians or groups who meet or exceed at least one, but not all three of the low-volume threshold criteria.
  7. Virtual Groups must designate a representative and email election to MIPS_VirtualGroups@cms.hhs.gov by Dec. 31, 2018 for the 2019 performance year.
  8. Finalizing a policy to assign a weight of 0% to each of the four performance categories and a final score equal to the performance threshold when:
    1. A MIPS eligible clinician joins an existing practice (existing TIN) in the final three months of the performance period year and the practice is not participating in MIPS as a group
    2. A MIPS eligible clinician joins a practice that is a newly formed TIN in the final three months of the performance period year
  9. Small practice bonus 5 to 6, but applied at the Quality Category level, rather than being applied to overall CPS.

Category Changes

Quality

  1. Category weight: 45%
  2. Different quality measures may now be submitted via different collection types. For example, a group or clinician may submit some measures through an EHR and some through a QCDR, and the measures will be scored together as part of one set.
  3. Claims can be reported by individuals or groups (again), but only by clinicians in a small practice (15 or fewer ECs)
  4. Groups who report 5 or fewer quality measures and do not meet the CAHPS for MIPS sampling requirements, will have their quality denominator reduced by 10 and the missing measure will receive zero points
  5. NEW: Extremely Topped-Out Measures: A measure attains this status when the average mean performance is within the 98th to 100th percentile range. Such measures will be proposed for removal in the next rule-making lifecycle for other topped-out measures.
    1. QCDR measures are excluded from the topped-out measure life cycle.

Promoting Interoperability

  1. Category weight: 25%
  2. Requires 2015 Edition CEHRT
  3. Two new measures: Opioid Treatment Agreement & Query of PDMP
  4. PI Score based on a single, smaller set of measures, no longer divided into Base, Performance, and Bonus

Cost

  1. Category weight: 15%
  2. Adding 8 new episode-based measures
    1. Case minimum 10 for procedural episodes
      1. CMS will attribute episodes to each MIPS EC who renders a trigger service
    2. Case minimum 20 for acute inpatient medical condition episodes
      1. CMS will attribute episodes to each MIPS EC who bill inpatient E&M claim lines during a trigger inpatient hospitalization under a TIN that renders at least 30% of the inpatient E&M claim lines in that hospitalization

Improvement Activities

  1. Category weight: 15%
  2. Added 6 new activities, modified 5 existing activities, removed 1 activity

b. APM Performance Year 2019

  1. Several references to 2025 and beyond
  2. CEHRT requirements of Advanced APMs: 75% of Eligible Clinicians in each APM Entity
  3. Other Payer Advanced APMs: 75% beginning in 2020
  4. Expanding the 8% revenue-based nominal amount standard for AAPMs and Other Payer AAPMs through 2024
  5. Quality – must report at least one outcome measure
  6. All-Payer Combo Option and Other Payer AAPMS
    1. Established a multi-year streamlined determination process where payers and Eligible Clinicians can provide info on the length of the agreement as part of their initial submission, and have any resulting determination be effective for the duration of the agreement (or up to 5 years)
    2. Allowing QP determinations at the TIN level, in addition to the APM Entity and individual EC levels
    3. Allowing all payer types to be included in the 2019 Payer Initiated Other Payer AAPM determination process for the 2020 QP performance period
  7. Multi-Year Other Payer AAPMs
    1. Payers and eligible clinicians with payment arrangements determined to be Other Payer Advanced APM must re-submit all information for CMS review and redetermination on an annual basis.
      1. At the time of the initial submission, the payer and/or eligible clinician will provide information on the length of the agreement, and attest at the outset that they will submit information about any material changes to the payment arrangement during its duration.
      2. In subsequent years, if there were no changes to the payment arrangement, the payer and/or eligible clinician do not have to annually attest that there were no changes to the payment arrangement
    2. Updated the MIPS APM measure sets that apply for purposes of the APM scoring standard

c. Public Reporting via Physician Compare

  1. Quality – all measure under MIPS Quality are available for public reporting, unless the measure itself is new (i.e. in its first or second year.)
  2. Cost – subset of Cost measures is available for public reporting, except new measures
  3. PI – Include an indicator for Eligible Clinician or group “successful” performance
  4. PI – include objectives, activities, and/or measures

3. Quality Payment Program–Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstance Policy for the 2019 MIPS Payment Year;

CMS has had to respond to some hard-to-face realities* since the proposed rule was released in July. Of note, the first policy addition to the rulemaking provides relief for ACOs, in addition to other MIPS eligible clinicians affected by fires, hurricanes, natural or man-made disasters that have a significant negative impact on healthcare operations, area infrastructure or communication systems. They will have the option to self-attest and receive a hardship exception.

*Climate Change is real.

4. Provisions from the Medicare Shared Savings Program–Accountable Care Organizations–Pathways to Success;

This policy provides a new direction for the Shared Savings Program by establishing pathways to success through redesigning the participation options available under the program to encourage ACOs to transition to two-sided models, in which they may share in savings and are also accountable for repaying any shared losses.

It also offers to:

  1. Further promote interoperability
  2. Grant voluntary 6-month extension for existing ACOs whose participation agreements expire on Dec. 31, 2018.
  3. Align CEHRT with QPP

5. Expanding the Use of Telehealth Services for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder under the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act

This policy outlines plans to reimburse physicians for virtually checking in with patients and remotely evaluating recorded images.

As it turns out, people treated remotely for psoriasis did just as well as those treated in person — and were much happier about not having to travel to see their doctors.

The final Medicare physician payment rule also expands payment for treatments for stroke, kidney disease, mental health and substance abuse by removing restrictions on originating sites. Those are all provisions from the budget and opioid packages.

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You could take any of these sections and write opinion pieces, draw dotted lines to affected stakeholders, and venture down about 1000 rabbit holes with this rule.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma acknowledges that transitioning to value-based care will require all of us to stretch and maybe sit with a bit of discomfort.

In her words, “If we’re going to move our system to a patient-centered, value-based system, change is inevitable, and change is always hard for those whose livelihood is dependent on the status quo.”

If you’re looking for some direction with MIPS, ACOs, or your place in the value-based care ecosystem, get in touch.

If you want to hear Robin and I geek out over this rule, be on the lookout for a special episode of the HIT Like a Girl podcast, to which you can subscribe here.