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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.

************************

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.

QPP (Quality Payment Program) 2019 Changes, Medicare Telemedicine Reimbursement, and Physician Fee Schedule E&M Changes

Posted on July 12, 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.

Today, CMS came out with some big changes as part of the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule and proposed rule for the QPP for 2019. These are some of the biggest efforts I’ve seen to try and change what Medicare has been doing for a while.

CMS has put together a fact sheet on the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule. Plus, you can also view the fact sheet for the 2019 Quality Payment Program (QPP) proposed rule. If you like all the details, you can find the full rule for both the 2019 Physician Fee Schedule and QPP 2019 (1473 pages) on the Federal Register.

That’s a lot of information and changes to process, but here are some initial thoughts. While what CMS and HHS are saying in their announcement is directionally good, the devil is always in the details. Here are a few of the highlights that could have a big impact on the healthcare IT and EHR world.

E/M Documentation Requirement Changes
The biggest change in this announcement is the change in E/M coding requirements. As part of CMS’ goal to streamline E/M documentation requirements, they’ve proposed some of the biggest changes to E/M since 1997. The one that will likely be talked about most is the opportunity for providers to bill Medicare using “medical decision-making or time.” Here’s a description of the change:

To improve payment accuracy and simplify documentation, we propose new, single blended payment rates for new and established patients for office/outpatient E/M level 2 through 5 visits and a series of add-on codes to reflect resources involved in furnishing primary care and non-procedural specialty generally recognized services. As a corollary to this proposal, we propose to apply a minimum documentation standard where Medicare would require information to support a level 2 CPT visit code for history, exam and/or medical decision-making in cases where practitioners choose to use the current framework, or, as proposed, medical decision-making to document E/M level 2 through 5 visits. In cases where practitioners choose to use time to document E/M visits, we propose to require practitioners to document the medical necessity of the visit and show the total amount of time spent by the billing practitioner face-to-face with the patient. Practitioners could choose to document additional information for clinical, legal, operational or other purposes, and we anticipate that for those reasons, they would continue generally to document medical record information consistent with the level of care furnished. However, we would only require documentation to support the medical necessity of the visit and associated with the current level 2 CPT visit code.

There are other changes to E/M that could be a big deal as well including having providers focus their documentation on what’s changed since the last visit as long as they review and update the previous information. Plus, providers can now just review and verify the information entered by ancillary staff or the patient rather than having to re-enter it.

The goal is quite clear. CMS is trying to battle against the bloated notes that are getting generated by EHRs today to justify a certain billing code level. Doctors will no doubt celebrate this as most doctors describe notes from their peers as awful and difficult to use because of all the note bloat. I don’t know how many times I heard from my medical billing friends at AHIMA that it doesn’t matter what’s actually done if it’s not documented. With the changes mentioned above, CMS is looking to change this.

Of course, EHRs aren’t going to be able to change their interfaces overnight. The new E/M changes are going to take a while to incorporate into EHR software. Plus, we’ll have to see how the non-Medicare payers react to these changes. If they don’t follow Medicare’s lead, that puts the EHR vendors in a tough position. We’ll have to see how that plays out.

Many doctors complain about hating their EHR software. I’ve long argued that the EHR is just the whipping boy for doctors’ ire. What doctors really hated was the crazy billing documentation requirements that were reflected in the EHR. If the changes above go far enough, maybe we’ll finally see if the EHR vendor really is to blame for provider burnout. However, as I mentioned, it will take some time for this to happen.

Medicare Telemedicine and Telehealth Reimbursement
The next biggest thing in today’s announcement was Medicare’s plans to reimbursement for what we would call Telemedicine or Telehealth services. 2 G codes (HCPCS code GVCI1 and GRAS1) were announced that seem like they could present a lot of opportunity for healthcare IT companies to finally get paid for the services they can provide:

Brief Communication Technology-based Service, e.g. Virtual Check-in (HCPCS code GVCI1)

Remote Evaluation of Recorded Video and/or Images Submitted by the Patient (HCPCS code GRAS1)

Practitioners could be separately paid for the Brief Communication Technology-based Service when they check in with beneficiaries via telephone or other telecommunications device to decide whether an office visit or other service is needed. This would increase efficiency for practitioners and convenience for beneficiaries. Similarly, the Remote Evaluation of Recorded Video and/or Images Submitted by the Patient would allow practitioners to be separately paid for reviewing patient-transmitted photo or video information conducted via pre-recorded “store and forward” video or image technology to assess whether a visit is needed.

Travie Broome offered some interesting insights into these codes:

CMS also proposed a number of CPT codes for “Chronic Care Remote Physiologic Monitoring” and “Interprofessional Internet Consultation” as follows:

We are also proposing to pay separately for new coding describing Chronic Care Remote Physiologic Monitoring (CPT codes 990X0, 990X1, and 994X9) and Interprofessional Internet Consultation (CPT codes 994X6, 994X0, 99446, 99447, 99448, and 99449).

The also proposed adding HCPCS codes G0513 and G0514 for Prolonged preventive service(s) which seems to include ESRD (end-stage renal disease) patients who receive dialysis at home and mobile stroke units.

QPP (Quality Payment Program, better known as MACRA and MIPS) Changes
I have to admit that the changes to the QPP program didn’t feel nearly as substantial. The QPP 2019 Fact Sheet seemed short on details and I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the full rule. A few highlights though:

  • 2019 QPP will remove the MIPS process-based quality measures
  • MIPS Expands to PTs, OTs, CSWs and clinical psychologists (which was required by law)
  • It will overhaul the “Promoting Interoperability” category (pretty generic and haven’t figured out what this really means, but they say it will focus on interoperability, imagine that!)
  • The Promoting Interoperability scoring has changed and so has some of the weighting, but nothing major
  • Many of those excluded from MIPS in 2018 can opt in to participate if they want in 2019
  • $500 million pool is available for exceptional performance (whith is now at 80 points vs 70 in 2017)
  • Must use a 2015 Certified EHR (officially a 2015 Edition CEHRT)

Those are some of the big changes I saw offhand.  I’d suggest that this is mostly business as usual for the most part.  Significant if you’re in the MACRA and MIPS weeds, but isn’t likely going to change your MACRA and MIPS strategy.

One change I’m still processing is this one:

Changing the application of MIPS payment adjustments, so that the adjustments will not apply to all items and services under Medicare Part B, but will now apply only to covered professional services paid under or based on the Physician Fee Schedule beginning with 2019, which is the first payment year of the program.

Does this change the analysis that Jim Tate did previously that MIPS Penalties (and incentives for that matter) included Medicare Part B drugs? Sounds like it to me. If I’m reading it right, this change means that the penalties will be less for those getting penalized, but the payments will be less for those participating in the program as well. Not a good thing for a program that already has incentive problems. Is that right or am I reading it wrong?

On that note, this explains why the final rule is 1473 pages long. Time to do some reading of the final rule and see what all the experts find as they analyze it. Let us know what we missed in the comments or any analysis of this that we got wrong. We can all learn what this means together.

Plus, remember that this is just the proposed rule and CMS even asked for comment on if it should go into effect in 2019 or 2020. I encourage you all to provide your feedback on the proposed rule so it can be improved when it goes final.

Early Lessons from the Front Lines of Value-based Care: How One APM Has Impacted Community-Based Oncology Practices

Posted on June 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Charles Saunders, CEO, Integra Connect.

The Oncology Care Model (OCM) – an alternative payment model introduced in July 2016 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation – launched with the ambitious goal to further delivery of higher quality, more coordinated cancer care at a lower cost. Participants include 184 practices representing approximately one-third of community oncologists in the US. They receive a so-called “MEOS” (monthly enhanced oncology services) payment of $160 per beneficiary per month for the duration of a qualifying 6-month chemotherapy period, plus the opportunity to earn a share of savings if they exceed a target threshold. In return, oncologists are expected to take on increasing accountability for patient outcomes and well-being, while also generating sustainable cost savings across all co-morbidities and care settings, into the patient home.

OCM Performance Period 1 Results Exposed an Unexpected Misalignment   

As part of the OCM program, CMS tracks practices during 6-month intervals – so-called “performance periods” – then shares results back about one year later. In February 2018, practices participating in the OCM program received visibility into Performance Period 1 (PP1) data, including savings achieved, aggregate quality score, and effectiveness of identifying eligible patients. While most practices were unsurprised by their performance scores, many did not anticipate the extent to which CMS would recoup MEOS payments that it deemed paid in error. The most common scenario involved patients with co-morbidities who, while receiving chemotherapy and related services, also visited other providers regularly. Therefore, the oncology practice did not represent the required plurality of E/M codes for that beneficiary. It was not uncommon for practices to be asked to return up to 30% of the sum they had been paid – a major financial hit.

Lack of Data Hinders Practices’ Ability to Accurately and Proactively Identify Beneficiaries

In May 2018, practices received their Performance Period 2 (PP2) Attribution Lists, which summarized which CMS beneficiaries met OCM eligibility criteria, which episodes were attributed to each respective practice, and episode start dates from January 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017. Unfortunately, because there is a significant lag between actual Performance Period and delivery of CMS findings – delayed up to nearly a year after each performance period has ended – OCM participants were unable to retroactively apply PP1 learnings to PP2.

Why is this especially problematic? Practices are faced not only with MEOS recoupments for erroneous payments but, with only a 1-year window to submit claims, are often unable to bill in full for patients who were missed. Indeed, there are many opportunities to miss appropriate patients, as practices needed to have an accurate view of: 1) all beneficiaries; 2) those with a qualifying diagnosis; 3) those with a new chemo episode; 4) those not only prescribed an oral agent, but those who subsequently filled it; 5) those not in a hospice; and more. Given all the dimensions to track and measure, practices without advanced tools face delivering enhanced services that they cannot correctly bill for.

Best Practices from Community-Based Oncology Practices Include Robust Data

What best practices arose to get attribution right? A vanguard of OCM practices realized that they would need to take proactive steps to enable near real-time visibility into their patient populations, embracing the tenets of population health management. Below is an example of the best practices adopted by several of these community-based oncology practices:

  • Increased transparency into oral chemotherapies: Existing practice protocols did not open an episode when oral agents were prescribed, since there was no in-office administration. To address this, the practice introduced a rule-based algorithm to identify all OCM eligible patients, including those who had been prescribed orals. In addition, they enlisted a combination of automated and personal follow-ups to validate qualification and ensure orals had been filled.
  • Avoidance of duplication: To identify missed billing opportunities while also reducing the risk of duplicated claims, practice leadership invested in a robust analytics tool that enabled personalized queries at the patient level. These reports compared eligibility against their practice management report to identify gaps, from unpaid and unbilled to denied.
  • Targeted patient intervention: To balance the practice’s financial and clinical objectives while optimizing OCM performance, the practice introduced complex care management services and employed a series of triage pathways. This approach ensured engagement with attributed beneficiaries and decreased avoidable high-cost events among at-risk patients, such as inappropriate ER visits and inpatient stays.
  • Optimized treatment choices. As part of its commitment to ensure each patient received the most effective treatment for his or her disease, the practice provided increased transparency around the availability of equally effective generic or biosimilar drugs. They also supported better end-of-life planning for patients facing second or third-line therapies not expected to provide any clinical benefits, but that could significantly degrade remaining quality of life.
  • Continuous performance improvement: To track the effectiveness of these quality improvement initiatives, the practice leveraged its analytics tool to monitor resource utilization and care management performance, then intervened to address outliers in real-time.

In short, to optimize performance under the OCM, practices are beginning to leverage the data to which they already have access – both clinical and financial – to risk-stratify their patient populations; identify OCM eligible patients; and gain near real-time visibility into quality and cost performance. Practices are also investing in better data integration and analytics that enable rules-based identification of eligible patients.

Population Health Analytics Help Practices Be Proactive and Succeed Under the OCM

Oncology is on the forefront of value-based care adoption and these early experiences from the OCM have provided a guide for other specialties. Based on their early results, what has come to the forefront is the need for a combination of comprehensive data management and robust analytics, coupled with the principles of population health management, which enable practices to step up and take control of the cost and quality for their attributed populations.

How Will CMS Handle Issues Surrounding MACRA Changes?

Posted on May 14, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As most readers will know, when CMS released details on MIPS and the Alternative Payment Model incentives it embarked on a new direction for quality programs generally. As most readers will know, MIPS consolidated PQRS, the Physician Value-based Modifier and the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for EPs (Meaningful Use). But CMS is still updating the Medicaid incentive program.

If I were a physician, I’d be even more interested in the CMS initiative dubbed Promoting Interoperability. In some of the biggest news to come out of the agency in ages, CMS is restructuring the EHR Incentive Programs to become the Promoting Interoperability Programs. Promoting Interoperability replaces the Advancing Care Information category of MIPS.

Whoa. That would be a big enough deal on its own, but the issues the rule raises are an even bigger one.

CMS’s has been working towards this goal for a few years. Per HIMSS, here are some changes suggested in the proposed rule that might have the biggest impact on the health IT world:

  • The rule would cut down measures from 16 to six
  • It would use a new performance-based scoring methodology which would include measures of performance on e-prescribing, health information exchange, provider to patient exchange and public health and clinical data exchange
  • The agency will define and work to prevent “information blocking”

On a related note, CMS has posted a request for information asking for stakeholder feedback on program participation conditions. This is pretty unusual for the agency.

Like many CMS proposals, this one leaves some important questions open. (Apparently, CMS itself wonders how this thing will work, as the request for information suggests.)

For example, the new performance-based scoring method will award providers anywhere from 0 to 100 points. Measuring health IT performance is always a tricky thing to do, and there’s little doubt that if this becomes a final rule, both providers and CMS will have to go through some struggles before they perfect this approach. In the meantime, providers face some big challenges. How will they adapt to them? Its too soon to say.

Addressing so-called “information blocking” should be an even bigger challenge. Everyone from members of Congress to providers to vendors acts as though there’s one way to describe this practice, but there’s still a lot of wiggle room. Honestly, I’ll be amazed if CMS manages to pin it down the first time around.

Still, the time is more than overdue for CMS to take on interoperability directly. Without real data interoperability, many promising digital health schemes will collapse under their own weight. If CMS can figure out how to make it happen, it will be pretty neat.

Meaningful Use Becomes Advancing Care Information Becomes Promoting Interoperability – MACRA Monday

Posted on May 7, 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

I’m quite sure you’ve all seen the news coming out from CMS about the name change for the various Medicare EHR Incentive and MACRA programs. I decided to not dive into it in depth here since so many organizations are already doing it. Plus, this is just the proposed rule. However, if you want some light reading, here’s all 1883 pages of the Promoting Interoperability proposed rule.

The name change of Meaningful Use/Advancing Care Information to Promoting Interoperability is an interesting way for CMS to signal what they want these programs to accomplish. It’s always been clear that ONC has wanted to find a way to promote interoperability. Now they literally have a program that will work to drive that goal.

I’ll admit that I’ve been a fan of this idea since May 15, 2014 when I suggested that ONC and CMS blow up meaningful use and just focus it on interoperability. It only took 4 years for them to figure this out.

While I still think this is directionally an interesting way to go, I’m afraid that the current programs aren’t a big enough incentive for CMS to really move the needle on interoperability. Plus, can CMS really create a rule that would push effect interoperability? I’m skeptical on both counts.

What’s interesting is that CMS could really push interoperability if it wanted. It could just say, if you want to get paid for Medicare, then you have to start sharing data. No doubt there are some complexities to this idea, but if CMS is really serious about promoting interoperability, that’s what they’d really do. That would move the needle much better than thousands of pages of rule making that won’t cause doctors and healthcare organizations to change.

What are your thoughts on the proposed rule? Were there big pieces of it that you saw and you think others should be watching? Are these changes going to relieve doctors of the massive reporting burden they should today? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter with @HealthcareScene

AAFP Proposes Tactics For Reducing EHR Administrative Burdens

Posted on February 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has proposed a series of approaches it says will reduce the administrative burdens EHRs impose on primary care doctors.

The recommendations, which come in the form of a letter to CMS, address health IT simplification, prior authorization and standardization of quality measurement. However, the letter leads off with EHR concerns and much of the content is focused on making physician IT use easier.

Few would argue that the average physician spends too much time struggling with EHR-related administrative work. The AAFP backs this assertion up with a couple of studies, including one finding that primary care physicians spend almost 6 hours per day interacting with EHRs. It also cites research concluding that four types of specialist spent almost 2 hours using the EHR for every hour of direct patient care.

To address these concerns, the AAFP recommends taking the following steps:

  • Eliminating HIT utilization measures in MIPS: The group argues that such measures are not needed anymore now that MIPS includes quality, cost and practice improvement measures.
  • Updating documentation requirements: With the agency’s Evaluation and Management recommendation guidelines having been developed 20 years ago, prior to the widespread use of EHRs, it’s time to rethink their use, the letter asserts. Today, the group says, they have a negative impact on EHR usability and hinder interoperability. The group recommends eliminating documentation requirements for codes 99211-99215 and 99201-99205 entirely and allowing any care team member to enter medical information.
  • Rethinking data exchange policies: The AAFP is asking CMS and ONC to focus on how and when data is exchanged rather than demanding that specific data types be included. The group also urges CMS and ONC to penalize healthcare organizations not appropriately sharing information, using its authority granted by the 21st Century Cures Act.
  • Creating standardized clinical data models: To share data effectively across the healthcare ecosystem, the AAFP argues, it’s necessary to develop nationally-recognized, consistent data models that can be used to share data efficiently. It recommends that such principles be developed by physicians and other clinicians rather than policymakers, vendors or engineers.

I don’t know about you, but I find much of this to be a no-brainer. Of course, the decades-old E/M guidelines need to be reformed, consistent data models must emerge if we hope to improve interoperability and physicians need to lead the charge.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell whether CMS and ONC are willing and prepared to listen to these recommendations. In theory, leaders at ONC should be only too glad to help providers achieve these goals and CMS should support their efforts. But given how obvious some of this is, it should have happened already. The fact that it hasn’t points up how hard all of this could be to pull off.

Two Medical Practices’ Reactions to MACRA Ruining Healthcare

Posted on January 31, 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.

Last week I wrote a post that discussed whether MACRA was ruining Healthcare. It’s an important discussion to have as we look at where healthcare IT legislation should go in the future.

In response to the article I got some pretty heated responses from medical practices that I thought were worth sharing with the wider audience who doesn’t get a chance to read the comments (yeah, I know that’s most of you).

The first comment is from Billy who said the following:

I wouldn’t say MACRA is ruining healthcare, but it’s starting to drive the decision train, which may be the first step.

From my corner of healthcare in America, our practice is forcing adherence to MACRA to set the tone for an ever growing portion of the workflow. The benefit from such is viewed as non-existent aside from protecting revenues. We have compliant doctors (with plenty of grumblings), but no happy ones that are doing this in the belief it’s good for medicine.

Taking two parts of your post I think I can speak towards in view of that…

“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.”

They’re upset at the government because MACRA is seen as an intrusion with no benefit. At best, it’s a threat to their income (both to the business and their end of year salary), and at worst, they don’t trust the government entering the realm of “quality” which traditionally was limited to clinical relevancy. We’ve had plenty of internal discussions of how MACRA quality measures are worlds away from what the physicians view as truly important quality measures for their profession.

“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?”

This doesn’t account for the primary reason MACRA was passed in the first place- controlling the costs of Medicare. They can talk about quality all they want, the government needed to eliminate the near automatic 2.5% (or thereabouts) increase in Medicare fee reimbursements. They do that with the freeze in rate increases, and making the physicians battle each other for what remains with the reward/penalty system.

Congress will never get rid of MACRA, it’s their plan to keep Medicare costs from blowing up until 2025 as the boomer generation keeps adding to the rolls.

So, MACRA is seen as having no benefit but a lot of downside in income and daily operations. About the only other thing that could have brought these emotions about would come from the IRS, but this is worse in some ways, as it’s forcing changes in clinical operations for the purpose of checking a box to protect income.

Welcome to the new normal.

It’s hard to think that Billy is right that this is the new normal. Should it be? Could we do something to make it so it’s not?

The next comment was from a long time reader who’s been commenting against MACRA and meaningful use before that (ie. a long time). Here’s meltoots’ take on the question of if MACRA is ruining healthcare:

Yep.
Count me as another mid career MD that sees the futility in any hope for the future of medicine. We are doomed. I do everything I can to talk everyone out of becoming an MD. Including my children.

We have 100% of the accountability and zero authority. Worse I am penalized by our government because I refuse to play stupid counting and clicking games. I was just discussing again (seems daily) my plans to exit this career. Too bad as I am one of only 4 orthopaedic surgeons left at our hospital. 20 years ago we had 35 on staff.

Every single person on earth seems to be saying all this data entry by MDs is silly, inefficient, useless, complex and frankly a huge costly waste of time. Everyone is speaking to burdens and the ridiculous nature of all this forced mindless data entry, super complex reporting, terrible auditing and penalizing for no good reason. When we look back a decade from now and wonder how we made medicine like the postal service, I know I can say I did try to point out better ways. But no one listened. At all.

If all these programs are so wonderful, tell me all the great things that have come out of MU, PQRS, VBM, QPP? So you got MDs to buy EHRs. Great. Everyone hates them. Great work.

HITECH set back real IT innovation in medicine at least a decade.

CMS touts patents over paperwork with absolutely no action, even worse, they made the MACRA program even more burdensome this year. AAPM, you want me to take even MORE risk, and hire more admins to run it? For 5%? Come on.

I have finally come to realization, that medicine has been destroyed by administrators, CMS /ONC, regulators, bean counters and the dozens of people I support just trying to stay ahead of the complexity. Its like the movie Office Space when I forget to click something in the 1000 clicks I have to do a day, I get 10 admins telling me about my TPS reports on what I did wrong.

What is really the worst part, is that I am pretty darned good at what I do, I am super busy and loaded with patients, too many. So I will be yet another MD, that has just had enough, that left the game in his prime. We should all be ashamed at what we did to our physicians.

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.

MedStar’s Human Factors Center: An Interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani

Posted on January 10, 2018 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of EHRSelector.com.For the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Background: Recently, I had a wide ranging interview with Dr. Raj Ratwani, Acting Center Director and Scientific Director of MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare.

The center is MedStar’s patient safety, and usability applied research arm. MedStar is the Mid Atlantic area’s largest medical facility non profit operating 10 major hospitals as well as dozens of urgent care, rehab and medical groups.

MedStar set up the center, as part of its Institute for Innovation five years ago. The Institute is an in house service of several centers that conduct research, analysis, development and education. In addition to human factors, the Institute turns MedStar staff’s ideas into commercial products, conducts professional education, encourages healthy lifestyles and develops in house software products.

The Human Factors Center’s work concentrates on medical devices, as well as creating new processes and procedures. The center’s 30 person staff features physicians, nurses, engineers, product designers, patient safety, usability and human factors specialists. The Center’s focus is on both MedStar and on improving the nation’s healthcare system with grants and contracts from AHRQ, ONC, CMS, etc., as well as many device manufacturers.

Dr. Ratwani: Dr. Ratwani’s publications are extensive and were one reason prompting my interview. I met with him in his office in the old Intelsat building along with Rachel Wynn the center’s post doctoral fellow. We covered several topics from the center’s purpose to ONC’s Meaningful Use (MU) program to the center’s examination of adverse event reporting systems.

Center’s Purpose: I started by asking him what he considered the center’s main focus? He sees the center’s mission as helping those who deliver services by reducing their distractions and errors and working more productively. He said that while the center examines software systems, devices take up the lion’s share of its time from a usability perspective.

The center works on these issues in several ways. Sometimes they just observe how users carry out a task. Other times, they may use specialized equipment such as eye tracking systems. Regardless, their aim is to aid users to reduce errors and increase accuracy. He noted how distractions can cause errors even when a user is doing something familiar. If a distraction occurs in the middle of a task, the user can forget they’ve already done a step and will needlessly repeat it. This not only takes time, but can also lead to cascading errors.

Impact: I asked him how they work with the various medical centers and asked about their track record. Being in house, he said, they have the advantage of formal ties to MedStar’s clinicians. However, he said their successes were a mixed bag. Even when there is no doubt about a change’s efficacy, its acceptance can depend on a variety of budget, logistic and personal factors.

EHR Certification: I then turned to the center’s studies of ONC’s MU vendor product certification. Under his direction, the center sent a team to eleven major EHR vendors to examine how they did their testing. Though they interviewed vendor staffs, they were unable to see testing. Within that constraint, they still found great variability in vendor’s approach. That is, even though ONC allowed vendors to choose their own definition of user centered design, vendors often strayed even from these self defined standards.

MU Program: I then asked his opinion of the MU program. He said he thought that the $40 billion spent drove EHR adoption for financial not clinical reasons. He would have preferred a more careful approach. The MU1 and MU2 programs weren’t evidence based. The program’s criteria needed more pilot and clinical studies and that interoperability and usability should have been more prominent.

Adverse Events: Our conversation then turned to the center’s approach to adverse events, that is instances involving patient safety. Ratwani is proud of a change he helped implement in Medstar’s process. Many institutions take a blame game approach to them berating and shaming those involved. MedStar treats them as teaching moments. The object is to determine root causes and how to implement change. Taking a no fault approach promotes open, candid discussions without staff fearing repercussions.

I finally asked him about his studies applying natural language processing to adverse patient safety reports. His publications in this area analyze the free text sections of adverse reporting systems. He told me they often found major themes in the report texts that the systems didn’t note. As a follow on, he described their project to manage and present the text from these systems. He explained that even though these systems capture free text, the text is so voluminous that users have a difficult time putting them to use.

My thanks to Dr. Ratwani and his staff for arranging the interview and their patience in explaining their work.
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A word about DC’s old Intelsat building that houses the Institute. Normally, I wouldn’t comment on an office building. If you’ve seen one, etc., etc. Not so here. Built in the 1980s, it’s an example of futurist or as I prefer to call it Sci-Fi architecture and then some. The building has 14 interconnected “pods” with a façade meant to look like, well, a gargantuan satellite.

Intelsat Building

 

To reach an office, you go down long, open walkways suspended above an atrium. It’s all other unworldly. You wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Princess Leia rounded a corner. It’s not on the usual tourist routes and you can’t just walk in, but if you can wangle it, it’s worth a visit.

Intelsat Building Interior

Clinicians File Class Action Suit Against eClinicalWorks

Posted on January 9, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

EMR provider eClinicalWorks has been hit by another class action lawsuit, this time a suit led by clinicians, raising questions as to how much legal trouble the vendor can survive.

The new suit is the latest of a series of dominos falling on eCW. Its legal problems began in May of last year, when it was forced to settle a suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice for $155 million. The suit contended that eCW got its Meaningful Use certification by misrepresenting its capabilities.

Then, in November of last year, eCW was slammed with a class action lawsuit, this one demanding $1 billion. The suit alleged that by lying about the capabilities of its software, eCW “failed millions of patients by failing to maintain the integrity of patient records.”

Now, eCW faces another class action suit, this time led by primary care doctors. The suit alleges that because eCW’s software didn’t meet MU standards as promised, they lost government reimbursement. The suit asserts the eCW gave the PCPs “no reason to suspect that [it] had made false statements to obtain its certification.”

All of this is interesting in and of itself, but it doesn’t address the bigger question: Can eCW survive the legal firestorm that has engulfed the company?

eClinicalWorks is a private company, so I can’t offer detailed information on its finances, but it reported revenue of $130 million for the third quarter of 2017. If that’s a representative number, the company generates roughly half a billion dollars a year.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s not an infinite supply. The $155 million settlement has to have hurt (though I suppose it might have been covered in part or entirely by business liability insurance).

The other two lawsuits could prove more deadly. While it’s hard to predict whether a suit will go anywhere, there’s at least some chance that eCW will face a $1 billion judgment. Of course, even if it does lose the case, it will take effect only after several years of legal wrangling. Nonetheless, it seems likely that such a conclusion could bankrupt the company.

The other key question is whether eCW can hold onto its customers as lawsuit after lawsuit is filed. It might seem to some that eCW has been punished enough for its indiscretions, and that the additional lawsuits are largely part of a feeding frenzy. On the other hand, one might suggest that if eCW lied to all of its customers, it deserves to be forced out of business. It’s a flip of the coin at  this point.

Regardless, the suits do suggest that EMR vendors had better keep their noses clean. If they try to fool customers – or the feds – the results could be catastrophic.