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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 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


  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


  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 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 and 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.