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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.

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

MIPS Twitter Roundup – MACRA Monday

Posted on December 11, 2017 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.

As we near the end of 2017, I found a number of tweets from CMS and other people that I thought would be useful to those that are interested in MACRA and MIPS.

First up is this tweet from CMS that it’s not too late to still participate in MIPS and collect some performance data before the end of 2017. This is them promoting the Test Option which would allow you to avoid the 4% penalty:

Next up is a fact sheet from CMS which outlines the different between 2017 and 2018 when it comes to MACRA/MIPS. I particularly like page 6 of the document. As you go through it, you’ll realize why 2018 is going to be much harder than 2017.

Next up is a stat from MGMA. I’d be interested in learning about the 14% of practices that think that their value-based reimbursement is going to decrease. Are these people going to direct primary care? I don’t see it going down for almost anyone. What do you think?

Finally, Matt Fisher asks a question about whether MIPS should be voluntary. I don’t think they can make it any more voluntary given the current legislation and do any of us think that congress is going to take up this topic? I don’t. So, it’s kind of a moot point. However, there is a lot of doctor angst about MIPS/MACRA. I just don’t see enough of it to really move the needle on things. I think we’re stuck with MACRA/MIPS for the forseeable future.

MIPS Penalties Include Medicare Part B Drugs – MACRA Monday

Posted on November 13, 2017 I Written By

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 sure most regular readers can tell that we’re pretty worn out and tired of MACRA, MIPS, and related government regulation. No doubt you’ll see us posting fewer MACRA Mondays going forward, but we’ll still try to cover major MACRA events as they occur. We just won’t be publishing MACRA Monday every Monday like we’ve been doing.

Jim Tate recently posted about the Real MIPS Timeline which included:

  • Phase 1 – Denial
  • Phase 2 – Shock/Anger
  • Phase 3 – Acceptance

You should read his full writeup, but he’s right. There’s a lot of denial that’s going to lead to shock and anger until the majority of healthcare have to finally accept that MIPS and MACA aren’t going anywhere.

Jim Tate also wrote another important piece related to the MIPS penalties and Medicare Part B drugs. You can read the full details of the change, but for those too lazy to click over, here’s the summary:

  • Many organizations argued that Medicare Part B Drug Costs Shouldn’t be Included in the MIPS Penalties (I mean…payment adjustments)
  • The MACRA Final rule still includes Medicare Part B drug costs (for the majority of people) in the MIPS reimbursement and eligibility calculations

If you’re a practice with a high volume of part B drugs, you better start figuring out your MIPS strategy now! Otherwise, that payment adjustment is going to hit pretty hard.

Thanks Jim for the great insights into MACRA and MIPS. If you need help with MIPS, be sure to check out Jim’s company MIPS Consulting.

MACRA Twitter Roundup – MACRA Monday

Posted on October 30, 2017 I Written By

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.

We took last week off from our MACRA Monday series of blog posts. It seems like we’re in a kind of lull period for the program. Either you’ve started collecting the data you’ve needed or you haven’t. Plus, we’re kind of waiting for the next MACRA Final rule to drop for more details.

With that in mind, I did want to see what some of the latest things that were being shared on Twitter when it comes to MACRA. I found a lot of strong opinions about the program, some good resources, and some forward-looking thoughts on what could be coming in the next MACRA final rule.


It’s hard to argue with John. Not just because he’s a smart guy, but because he’s right that it’s hard to imagine a path forward that’s fee for service and doesn’t include a shift to value based care in some form or fashion. At least given the current market dynamics.


This caution from Workflow Chuck should have us all nervous about the shift. I see a lot of healthcare organizations going after the target as opposed to the goal of value based care.


MACRA is going to impact your biz. I liked the way Kelly broke it out into 4 areas. No doubt some of these things could be argued both ways.


This is still how most doctors I know feel about MACRA and even meaningful use before it. They feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus.

Here are two forward looking resources that look at what we might get from the MACRA Final Rule:

What else are you hearing about MACRA? Would love to hear your thoughts, insights, questions, perspectives, rants, etc in the comments.

Optimizing Your EHR for MIPS and Other Quality Payment Programs – MACRA Monday

Posted on October 9, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Meena Ande currently acts as Director of Implementation for Advantum Health. 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.

As quality reporting requirements ramp up under value-based payment programs like MIPS, healthcare organizations are busy retrofitting their EHRs to make way for new measures. In some settings, not much has changed by way of tech utilization since initial EHR investments were made. Many outpatient settings still lack the internal expertise needed to optimize their implementations.

The truth is many EHRs have the functionality providers need for quality reporting, but many providers don’t know that due to limited exposure to the system. Couple that stunted tech knowledge with the well documented lack of familiarity with MACRA and the recent rise of the service model in healthcare is no surprise. Many practice administrators are relying on their EHR vendor or engaging outside experts to help lead the charge on system reconfiguration to meet Quality Payment Program demands.

There are several EMR capabilities providers can take advantage of to support QPP reporting efforts. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you customize your EHR for MIPS and other value-based models.

Don’t boil the ocean when selecting CQMs.

Most EHRs give the option of tracking more than what is required for quality reporting. Initially, track applicable measures that exceed reporting requirements. After three to four weeks you’ll know which are your strong areas. Pick the best of the litter and proceed.

Providers can be overwhelmed by too many measures, particularly in multi-specialty practice settings. While it can be difficult to find overlap in measures between specialties, taking advantage of shared metrics whenever possible can reduce reporting burdens. Sit down as early as possible and develop an EHR configuration that works for your practice’s various clinicians.

Case in Point:

A gastroenterologist and a cardiologist may work in the same multi-specialty organization and on the same EHR, but the clinical quality measures they care about differ. There is no reason to give the gastroenterologist access to the cardiology problem list in the EHR. Specialty views improve ease-of-use and support more complete documentation.

Most EHRs offer role-based and specialty-based customization. Administrators can enable or disable EHR features related to some quality measures at the practice level and sometimes at the individual provider level. Clinical quality measures are based on details about the patient, but what is captured at each point of care should be tailored to the specific provider role.

Consider the roles impacted by different CQMs.

Keep the role of the person who may be responsible for different quality measures and Advancing Care Information workflows in mind when selecting and carving out space for CQMs in your EHR. Select measures that spread reporting work across multiple roles to relieve clinicians of unnecessary burdens.         

Case in Point:

The insurance eligibility verification required under Meaningful Use is managed by the front office. Front-office staff members should be made aware of the processes they need to complete before a patient checks in, and where to document that task in the EHR.

Control what is included in MIPS denominators.

Like Meaningful Use, patient encounter volume is important under MIPS. The size of the patient pool under any given quality measure directly impacts your adherence percentage. While most primary care encounters do meet patient visit requirements under MACRA, that is not always the case in specialty settings. Clinicians can exercise some control in determining what is included in patient denominators when reporting under MIPS.

Case in point:

Some primary care visits can be omitted. Let’s say a two-physician practice sees 50 patients a day. Only 15 of those patients might be seen by a physician. The rest of the patients may be there for a simple procedure like a blood pressure screening, stress test, or echocardiogram, where quality reporting elements are not verified. Such visits should be excluded.

Evaluate your reporting paths.

MIPS offers both EHR-based and registry-based reporting paths. Most specialties can submit CQM data via their EHR while others will have to rely on paid registry reporting. Additional reporting options might include submitting through associations that member clinicians are affiliated with, or through registries created by large hospital affiliates to help related providers.

Another hurdle for clinicians is deciding whether to submit data as a group or independently. Groups interested in participating in MIPS via the CMS web interface or administering the CAHPS for MIPS survey had until June 30, 2017, to register. Beyond that, clinicians have until the March 31, 2018, MIPS submission deadline to decide whether to report independently or as a group.

Case in point:

Big groups with different levels of EHR proficiency among providers may be better suited reporting at an individual level. Individual reporting takes more time for attestation, but the advantage is that higher-performing clinicians can avoid a penalty if the group doesn’t collectively meet reporting criteria.

Each month, sample 10 percent of EHR CQM data, including instances where criteria have been met and where it has not. Catch outliers with trouble following through on processes and extend targeted training to the team members bringing numbers down.

Conclusion

Optimizing the EHR and other tech resources providers have in place can be a huge MIPS enablement factor. Up-front customization work helps providers meet reporting requirements and save time over the long run. EHR optimization also enables future value-based care initiatives and lays the groundwork for population health management programs. Gains made in EHR use benefit the life of the practice through increased efficiency and, at the end of the day, better patient care.

About Meena Ande
Meena Ande currently acts as Director of Implementation for Advantum Health where she manages Implementation of services along with EHR optimization, with emphasis on workflow management for value-based reporting.

The Health Plans’ Role in Meeting MACRA Requirements – MACRA Monday

Posted on July 17, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Karen Way, Health Plan Analytics and Consulting Practice Lead at NTT DATA Services. This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

When the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) became an official federal ruling for the healthcare industry in 2015, the act replaced the previous Medicare reimbursement schedule with a new pay-for-performance program focused on quality, value and accountability. In short, the legislation rewards healthcare providers for quality of care, not quantity.

While many discuss the impact on providers, what is the health plans’ role in aiding health systems and physicians to meet MACRA requirements?

MACRA provides multiple opportunities for health plans to increase and improve collaboration with provider networks. Recommendations on how health plans can accomplish this include sharing information and services, creating new partnerships and bringing about financial awareness as the legislation continues to take effect.

Sharing Data

One of the requirements under MACRA is for providers to enhance clinical measures and data analytics to strengthen members’ experiences. Health plans can assist by recognizing where providers lack expertise in data-related facts to offer input and support where it’s most beneficial.

For example, a provider may not have as much knowledge on advanced data science, but health plans can share their predictive models and tools to strengthen analytics. Sharing advanced technical infrastructure to facilitate data exchange will enable providers to access a more complete picture of members’ profiles. In return, the picture will provide a higher quality service to individual members, as well as opportunities for health plans to continue offering tailored consulting and data support.

At its best, sharing data to improve clinical measures is a win-win scenario. The Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) is a tool used by more than 90 percent of America’s health plans to measure performance on important dimensions of care and service. Just as HEDIS calls for measurement, MACRA also encourages health plans to aid providers with reporting standards. Under these rules, health plans are required to record a wealth of information on members, and when shared with providers, the tide lifts all boats.

Partnering to Manage Risk

Some of the changes under MACRA are reminders for providers to be highly aware of risk management. Providers will seek strong partners with the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to ensure they do not take on risk greater than they can support. To assist, health plans should enter into risk-sharing relationships, such as value-based contracts, with high-performing providers.

Health plans should actively strive to be strong partners by enabling robust data analytics that support quantitative action plans in the areas of quality and clinical care gaps, medical cost and trend analysis, population health, as well as member-risk management. As health plans partner with providers, they should also stay flexible on potential changes to provider payments as the pay-for-performance model(s) mature over time.

Financial Awareness

Health plans also need to be aware of the financial considerations that result from increased value-based contracting for small and large providers.

Under MACRA, smaller providers and individual physicians are more likely to be exposed to potential increase in costs, which may result in additional provider considerations. As Medicare payments shrink, these providers will look to shift costs to other payers, making contract negotiations more difficult and potentially increasing unit costs for some services. Large physician groups, or those located in markets with progressive healthcare systems, will look to negotiate even higher reimbursement rates due to the potential for increased competition.

Health plans should also be aware of potential impacts beyond Medicare fee-for-service (FFS), which is the initial focus of the MACRA legislation. Pay-for-performance is likely to extend beyond Medicare FFS into other health plan lines of business, such as Medicaid or commercial plans. For example, under MACRA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stated it would consider permitting Medicaid Medical Homes to count as an alternative payment model if participating practices would risk at least four percent of their revenue in 2019 and five percent in 2020.

Why This Matters

Overall, MACRA creates a tall order as it aims to increase pay-for-performance and decrease care based on quantity. This notion is an altruistic adjustment for the health system and each party has a specific role to play to achieve the dream. But the backbone of this goal is collaboration between health plans and providers. Collaboration will result in shared clinical measures, awareness and management of risk, lower healthcare costs and, most importantly, improved patient outcomes.

The Top Three Hidden Impacts of MIPS – MACRA Monday

Posted on July 10, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Tom S. Lee, PhD, CEO & Founder, SA Ignite. This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

While most providers know the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) will have escalating financial impacts, there are additional strategic and operational concerns that go along with managing MIPS participation. The MIPS score will impact areas beyond just clinicians’ Medicare reimbursement, including public reputation, clinician recruiting and compensation, and reporting for participants in alternative payment models (APMs).

  1. Public Reputation

Clinicians participating in MIPS and most Medicare accountable care organizations (ACOs) will have a MIPS score that determines their Medicare Part B reimbursement. The same score can impact public reputation because CMS will publish the scores on the Physician Compare website and make the data freely available to the public. Companies like Google, Healthgrades, Consumer Reports, Yelp, and others can use that data to incorporate the MIPS score into its clinician ratings and review systems. If an organization chooses to do just the minimum in 2017 to avoid the penalty, it means its clinicians could have a public performance score as low as 3 out of 100, while competitors who fully perform and report could have much higher publicly reported scores.

MIPS scores become a permanent part of each clinician’s resume because CMS binds the annual score to the clinician’s unique national provider identifier (NPI). So even if a clinician switches organizations, the historical score, along with the reimbursement or penalty, will follow the clinician, with the new organization absorbing the financial impact earned by the clinician up to two years prior at a different organization.

Estimates indicate that the revenue impact of consumers swayed by MIPS scores can be significantly larger than just the direct reimbursement impacts of MIPS. According to this article, a 1-star increase on Yelp leads to 5 to 9 percent increase in a business’ revenue. Using CMS’ data on Medicare Part B payments by specialty, this could mean an increase ranging from $4,468 to $8,042 per year per clinician for an internal medicine doctor and up to $10,705 to $19,269 per year per clinician for a cardiologist.

And, it may be much harder to convince a consumer who did not select a clinician based on an unfavorable MIPS score to re-evaluate that clinician in the future, even if the clinician’s score ultimately increases.

  1. Clinician Recruiting and Compensation

Understanding a clinician’s historical MIPS scores will be important to an organization properly evaluating and contracting with that clinician. When recruiting new clinicians or acquiring practices, healthcare organizations are mindful that they can inherit poor scores from other organizations’ program decisions. Conversely, clinicians will increasingly seek to join organizations with a good track record enabling its clinicians to achieve high MIPS scores, which positively impacts the resumes of all those clinicians.

In addition, organizations are seeking to align clinician compensation with MIPS financial and reputational impacts so look for an increasing number of compensation plan designs to directly incorporate MIPS scores and category scores as key performance indicators.

  1. Reporting Obligations of APM Participants

Although a healthcare organization may make a strategic decision to join an Alternative Payment Model (APM), such as a Medicare Shared Savings Program Accountable Care Organization (ACO), clinicians who are part of that organization are not necessarily exempt from MIPS. For example, if a clinician joins the organization after the final August 31st CMS determination of APM participation, then those clinicians will still need to fully report for MIPS or face a penalty. This is true for late-joining clinicians in both MIPS APMs as well as Advanced APMs, which typically qualify for a MIPS exemption.

Regardless of when clinicians join a Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Track 1 ACO, the ACO must manage MIPS eligibility, performance, and reporting for all clinicians, in addition to its ACO program obligations. This stems from the fact that MSSP Track 1 ACOs are not Advanced APMs.

How to Engage Clinicians Regarding MIPS

Beyond educating clinicians and leadership about the hidden impacts of MIPS, much of the important work to be successful under MIPS involves engaging clinicians in taking ownership of their responsibilities under the program. Some best practices:

  1. Recognize the importance of patient and clinician satisfaction
    • Reinvigorate support from leadership on the importance of both pillars
  2. Collaborate with clinicians
    • Let their voices be heard regarding both the explicit and hidden impacts of MIPS
  3. Provide feedback loop to clinicians and staff teams
    • Clinicians want to understand how they are being scored and where they have the best opportunities to improve
  4. Provide transparency
    • Communicating successful as well as failed efforts and the learnings accrued builds trust

Independent Primary Care Practice Success and MACRA – MACRA Monday

Posted on July 3, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Christina Scannapiego who currently writes the technical documentation and educational content for HealthFusion MediTouch. This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program.

Can participating in a PCMH and programs like Chronic Care Management improve your MIPS total score?

The shift to fee-for-value healthcare may feel like discouraging, foreign territory. However, if you’re already participating in value-based models like a patient centered medical home or chronic care management, your practice is more poised for success during this transition.

Chronic Care Management

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have increased reimbursement for Chronic Care Management (CCM) services. Now, a provider has the potential to earn more than $50,000 per year under the CCM program. Patient-centered care, patient engagement and better care coordination are the core objectives of CMS. Participation in CCM could weigh heavily on your total MIPS score. CCM helps patients by extending care support beyond face-to-face appointments. Participation in this program will help you move the needle in four performance categories by extending care between office visits, controlling costs, increasing care coordination, enhancing doctor-patient relationships to help improve patient outcomes.

CCM and MACRA overlap across several MIPS components:

  • Advancing Care Information: Previously Meaningful Use, meant to achieve patient engagement and promote the electronic exchange of information, practice analytics and reporting capabilities using an EHR.
  • Quality measures: At least 30 measures including many high priority items are common to the CCM program.
  • Clinical Practice Improvement Activities: Patient engagement is one of the main objectives of both CCM and MACRA. Providing 24/7 access to clinicians and coordinating care across provider settings plays an integral part in the CCM objectives and will boost your score in this performance category.
  • Cost: Although providers aren’t responsible for reporting data in this performance category, participating in CCM can lower costs due to preventable hospitalizations from poor medication adherence and care transitions to other providers. Patients with multiple chronic conditions can often pose the highest costs in healthcare. Effectively managing the care of patients will ultimately benefit their overall well-being and the health of your practice.

Patient Centered Medical Home

The PCMH model was established to help deliver patient-centered care through care coordination, preventative services, population health management and extended access to care services. This model thrives from robust patient engagement, which is one of MACRA’s most important goals. MIPS scoring methods favor those participating in PCMH by automatically scoring providers with 100% in the Advancing Care Information performance category. PCMH recognized practices will also likely get credit in the Advancing Care Information performance category because of their experience with NCQA standards.

The importance of both CCM and PCMHs in the new healthcare regime have placed primary care physicians in a unique and opportune position; one in which the independent provider stands to find success amidst change. The impact of MACRA on healthcare is “monumental” and “herculean,” said the Director of Provider Innovation Strategies at DST Health Solutions in her presentation, “The Role of PCMH Under MACRA.” MACRA isn’t a momentary, passing legislation — it’s had bipartisan support from the beginning and it’s here to stay. Luckily for PCHM and CCM participators, this new legislation and enormous impact becomes more manageable.

About the Christina Scannapiego:
Christina Scannapiego has been a technical, health and lifestyle writer for more than 10 years. Christina currently writes the technical documentation and educational content for HealthFusion MediTouch, an Electronic Health Records software platform. HealthFusion and its MediToch cloud software suite is a subsidiary of Quality Systems/next Gen. MediTouch is comprised of a range of web-based software solutions for physicians, medical practices and billing services.