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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