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Medicare ACOs May Be Slated For Big Changes — And Health IT May Be Part Of It

Posted on May 25, 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.

Before I get started, I want to offer a hat tip to Becker’s Hospital Review, which turned me onto the following news. That news, in brief, is that CMS might make changes to its ACO program that could have a big impact on the doctors and hospitals that participate.

According to Becker’s, CMS Administrator had some negative things to say about so-called “upside only” risk contracts, which don’t pay out anything to the agency if they miss financial and clinical benchmarks: “These ACOs are actually increasing Medicare spending, and the presence of these ‘upside-only’ tracks may be encouraging consolidation in the marketplace, reducing competition and choice for beneficiaries,” Verma told the AHA’s Annual Membership Meeting earlier this month.

At present, a whopping 460 of 561 ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program are in Track 1, the agency’s upside-only program. At present, ACOs can only participate in two three-year contracts on this track, so next year 82 ACOs will be required to take on financial risk. Obviously, they don’t like this.

However, CMS isn’t exactly being unreasonable to consider curtailing Track 1. Looked at one way, the Medicare Shared Savings Program has failed utterly achieving its core purpose, and upside-only contracts are the primary reason.

According to Becker’s, which cited research from Avalere, while the program was supposed to generate $1.7 billion in net savings from 2013 to 2016, upside-only contracts were responsible for $444 million in federal spending. On the other hand, downside-risk ACOs cut spending by $60 million, a relatively tiny number when you consider the scale of CMS’s budget but positive side nonetheless.

All that being said, let me interject here and note that HIT may be part of the problem. I’m betting some of the expected savings was based on assumptions about how health IT would help ACOs meet clinical and financial benchmarks.

After all, the federal government spent many billions of dollars paying doctors and hospitals Meaningful Use incentive, which obviously gave them a convincing reason to adopt EMRs. No one approves that level spending without believing it would make everything better.

As it turns out, though, that might have been a flawed assumption. If I’m right, the Track 1 failure suggests that health IT isn’t doing as much to create efficiencies as federal health leaders had hoped. I know, particularly if you’re a doctor reading this, you’re saying “I could’ve told you this a decade ago.” Still, it’s worth repeating.

While health IT organizations — especially those housed in progressive health systems — are making great progress with improving care, we haven’t met the lofty goals of such approaches by any means. But if they want to progress toward value-based care, they’ll probably have to put their health IT to better use.

Are EMR Clicks the Problem? – Deep Thought Thursday

Posted on February 15, 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.

I agree with David Chou here when it comes to needing to make EMRs easier. However, I don’t believe reducing the number of clicks is the real issue. Clicks are just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is regulations and reimbursement requirements that need revision and simplification.

If we simplified regulations and reimbursement requirements, EHRs would be significantly more usable and would require fewer clicks.

The next question you should ask yourself is whether this administrative simplification will happen first or whether the technology will evolve to the point where it can automatically document the patient visit to any level of complexity while not disrupting the physician workflow.

Where’s your bet? On government and payer changes? Or on technology?

My bets on technology even if Seema Verma, CMS Administrator, is calling for administrative simplification. However, we’re certainly not there yet on either front.

There’s a Disturbance in the Force We Know as MACRA

Posted on February 13, 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.

Yesterday Anne Zieger wrote about AAFP’s proposals to reduce the EHR Administrative Burdens and then we got this tweet from CMS Administrator Seema Verma:

That’s some really strong language from the CMS Director.

If you care about this topic, you should go and read all of Seema Verma’s tweets, but here are two more for those who don’t want to read them all:

Change is in the air it seems. Many providers are rejoicing if you look through the replies to Seema Verma’s tweets.

Dr. Ronald Hirsch asked the question that I’m sure many doctors were asking:

The short answer is no MACRA and MIPS aren’t going away. If my understanding of policy is right, Seema Verma doesn’t have the authority to make MACRA go away. That would take actions from Congress and I don’t know anyone holding their breath on that one. However, Seema can streamline the way MACRA and MIPS are implemented to make it much easier for doctors. That seems to be what’s happening now.

What will this mean for the future of MACRA? I don’t think anyone knows the answers to that question. However, what does seem clear from these tweets is that change is in the air. We’ll have to wait and see what those changes are and who influences the changes they make.

What do you think this means for MACRA and MIPS? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.