In December 2014, President Obama signed into a law H.R. 5771, a tax extender bill that includes the “Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014.” As discussed in a previous post, the law, P.L. 113-295, includes three Medicare provisions to finance the ABLE Act: revisions to payment adjustments for Medicare physician fee schedule misvalued services, limits on Medicare coverage of vacuum erection systems, and an additional delay in implementation of oral-only end stage renal disease (ESRD)-related drugs in the ESRD PPS. President Obama also has signed into law S. 2917/P.L. 113-233, which adds Ebola to the FDA’s priority review voucher program.
CMS has posted a January 2015 release of the National Physician Fee Schedule Relative Value File, reflecting a conversion factor (CF) of $35.7547 – down slightly from the $35.8013 included in the 2015 final MPFS rule published on November 12, 2014. CMS is expected to publish a notice explaining the reasons for the revised CF. CMS had previously announced that it is holding Medicare physician claims for services furnished during the first two weeks of 2015 because of unspecified errors found in the MPFS final rule. The claims hold is not expected to actually disrupt cash flow since clean electronic claims are not processed for 14 days anyway.
Note that the new CF applies only to services provided during the first three months of 2015, as a result of a temporary patch included in the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) of 2014. On April 1, 2015, the conversion factor is scheduled to be adjusted according to the statutory Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, resulting in an estimated 21.2% reduction -- unless Congress steps in and establishes an alternative conversion factor or otherwise reforms the SGR formula. Congress is expected to attempt to adopt a measure to prevent the scheduled April 1 SGR reduction from taking place.
On November 12, 2014, CMS published its final rule to update the Medicare physician fee schedule (MPFS) for CY 2015. Highlights of the sweeping rule include the following:
- The Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) of 2014 provides for a 0% update to the conversion factor (CF) for MPFS services furnished between January 1, 2015 and March 31, 2015, with the CF adjusted afterwards according to the statutory Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. In the final rule, CMS determined that based on the zero percent update under PAMA and adjustments necessary to maintain budget neutrality, the CF for the first quarter of 2015 will be $35.8013 (compared to $35.8228 in 2014). CMS also announced that the CF for April 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015 will be $28.2239 – a 21.2% reduction -- unless Congress establishes an alternative CF or otherwise modifies the SGR formula. While there is an expectation that Congress eventually will override this payment cut, the form any such action might take is speculative at this point.
- The final rule includes numerous provisions intended to address potentially misvalued codes. Notably, CMS has adopted its proposal to transform all 10- and 90-day global surgery codes to 0-day global codes. Under this provision, CMS will include in the value for these procedures all services provided on the day of surgery, and pay separately for visits and services actually furnished after the day of the procedure. CMS intends to begin with revaluing the 10-day global services in CY 2017, and follow with the 90-day global services in CY 2018. CMS also discussed implementation of a PAMA provision authorizing CMS to use alternative approaches to establish practice expense (PE) relative value units (RVUs), including the use of data from other suppliers and providers of services, including outpatient hospital data, but CMS is not adopting any particular policy to incorporate such data into PE values at this time. Moreover, while CMS proposed to review a number of specific high-expenditure specialty service codes that have not been recently reviewed, CMS is not proceeding with this review at this time in order to concentrate efforts on its plan to revalue services with global periods. CMS is revising how it accounts for costs associated with x-ray services, but CMS did not adopt its proposal to refine the way it values radiation therapy costs.
- CMS is adopting, with modifications, is proposal to establish a new process to enhance transparency in MPFS ratesetting and ensure that virtually all payment input revisions are subjected to public comment prior to being used for payment. In short, CMS will include in its annual proposed MPFS rule the proposed values for all new, revised, and potentially misvalued codes for which it has complete American Medical Association’s Relative Value Update Committee (RUC) recommendations by February 10 (instead of the proposed January 15th) of the preceding year. For 2016, a transition year, if CMS does not receive timely RUC recommendations, CMS will establish interim final values for these codes in CY 2016. Beginning with valuations for CY 2017, CMS expects to propose values for most new, revised, and potentially misvalued codes and before establishing final values, use G-codes as necessary in to facilitate continued payment for certain services for which CMS does not receive RUC recommendations in time to propose values, and adopt interim final values in the case of wholly new services for which there are no predecessor codes or values and for which CMS does not receive RUC recommendations in time to propose values.
- CMS adopted numerous changes to the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) for 2015, including the addition of 20 new individual measures and two measure groups, and removal of 50 measures. CMS also is requiring eligible professionals who see at least one Medicare patient in a face-to-face encounter to report on at least one measure from a new cross-cutting measures set in addition to other required measures. The rule also includes revisions to Shared Savings Program/accountable care organization (ACO) quality requirements, including changes to the scoring strategy to recognize quality improvement, revisions to quality measure benchmarks, and revisions to individual quality measures.
- CMS adopted changes to the Physician Value-Based Payment Modifier program, under which CMS will adjust payment to physicians based on the quality of care compared to costs. Under the final rule, CMS will apply the Value Modifier to all physicians, including those in groups with two or more eligible professionals (EPs) and solo practitioners, as proposed, but CMS is delaying until 2018 (instead of 2017) application of the Value Modifier to non-physician EPs in groups with two or more EPs and to non-physician EPs who are solo practitioners. CMS also is, among other things, modifying its proposed 2017 payment adjustment framework to reduce the maximum amount of payment at risk (2% instead of the proposed 4%) for groups with fewer than 10 physicians and solo practitioners.
- CMS will require physicians to report a place of service code on professional claims to distinguish services furnished in an off-campus provider-based department (hospitals similarly will be required to report a modifier for such services). The place of service code will be required for professional claims as soon as it is available, but not before January 1, 2016.
- CMS is adopted changes to its Physician Payment Sunshine Act regulations, also known as the Open Payments program. These provisions are discussed in a separate post.
- Among many other things, the final rule also: updates malpractice RVUs; revises Geographic Practice Cost Indices; reduces beneficiary cost-sharing associated for anesthesia related to screening colonoscopies; adds to the list of services that can be furnished to Medicare beneficiaries under the telehealth benefit annual wellness visits, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and prolonged evaluation and management services; and establishes a payment rate of $40.39 for chronic care management services for beneficiaries who have multiple, significant chronic conditions. Note that while CMS had proposed to establish a revised local coverage determination (LCD) process for new draft clinical diagnostic laboratory test LCDs, in response to concerns raised by commenters, CMS is not adopting changes to the LCD process in this final rule. Likewise, in the proposed rule, CMS raised concerns about “operational and program integrity issues” arising from the use of substitute (locum tenens) physicians to fill staffing needs or to replace a physician who has permanently left a medical group, particularly with regard to potentially inappropriate use of the departed physician’s Provider Transaction Access Numbers (PTAN) or National Provider Identifier (NPI). CMS solicited comments on specific questions associated with substitute physician billing arrangements, including with regard to implications for the physician self-referral law. In the final rule, CMS noted that it received a few comments on issues raised in this solicitation, which CMS will consider in any rulemaking on this subject, but the agency did not discuss specific plans for future action.
Comments on a limited number of provisions, including interim final RVUs, will be accepted if received by December 30, 2014.
MedPAC is meeting on October 9 and 10, 2014 to discuss a variety of Medicare policy issues, including: international comparison of rates paid to hospitals; sharing risk in Medicare Part D; potentially inappropriate opioid use in Medicare Part D; the next generation of Medicare beneficiaries; private-sector initiatives to manage post-acute care; and validating relative value units in Medicare’s fee schedule for physicians and other health professionals.
On July 11, 2014, CMS published its proposed rule to update the Medicare physician fee schedule for CY 2015. The proposed rule reflects enactment of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) of 2014, which provides for a 0% update to the conversion factor (CF) for MPFS services furnished between January 1, 2015 and March 31, 2015. In the Proposed Rule, CMS estimates that with the application of a budget neutrality adjustment, the CF for the first quarter of 2015 would be $35.7977 (compared to $35.8228 in 2014). Under PAMA, the CF will be adjusted on April 1, 2015 according to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula unless Congress takes additional legislative action. CMS does not speculate on the CF that will be applicable April 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015, but CMS previously estimated that the SGR would result in about a 20.9% cut in MPFS payments for 2015 if Congress does not again intervene. There is an expectation that Congress eventually will override this payment cut, but the timing and extent of any such relief cannot be assured at this time. Other key provision in the proposed rule include the following:
- The proposed rule includes numerous proposals to review addition codes as being potentially misvalued, and to revise the data considered by CMS in assessing the value of procedures. CMS proposes to add about 80 codes to its list of potentially misvalued codes, most of which are high-expenditure specialty services that have not been recently reviewed. CMS also discusses implementation of a PAMA provision authorizing CMS to use alternative approaches to establish practice expense (PE) relative value units (RVUs), including the use of data from other suppliers and providers of services. CMS is specifically seeking comments on the possible use of the Medicare hospital outpatient cost data in the PE valuation methodology. In addition, CMS is proposing to transform all 10- and 90-day global surgery codes to 0-day global codes. Under this provision, CMS would include in the value for these procedures all services provided on the day of surgery, and pay separately for visits and services actually furnished after the day of the procedure, effective beginning in CY 2017.
- CMS proposes a new process intended to enhance transparency in MPFS ratesetting and ensure that all payment input revisions are subjected to public comment prior to being used for payment. In short, beginning with the MPFS proposed rule for CY 2016, CMS will include proposed values for all new, revised, and potentially misvalued codes for which it has complete American Medical Association’s Relative Value Update Committee (RUC) recommendations by January 15th of the preceding year (thus for the CY 2016 rulemaking, CMS would include in the proposed rule proposed values for services for which it has RUC recommendations by January 15, 2015). CMS would delay consideration of RUC recommendations received after January 15th of a year. For codes that describe wholly new services, CMS will work with the RUC to try to receive recommendations in time to include proposed values in the proposed rule; if not, and CMS determines that it is in the public interest for Medicare to begin using the code, CMS would establish values for the code’s initial year as under current policy. CMS is also revising how it accounts for costs associated with radiation therapy equipment and x-ray services.
- CMS proposes numerous changes to the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), including the addition of 28 new individual measures and two measure groups, and removal of 73 measures. CMS also proposes that eligible professionals who see at least one Medicare patient in a face-to-face encounter report measures from a new cross-cutting measures set in addition to other required measures. The proposed rule also includes revisions to Shared Savings Program/accountable care organization (ACO) quality requirements, including changes to the scoring strategy to recognize quality improvement, revisions to quality measure benchmarks, and revisions to individual quality measures.
- CMS proposes changes to the Physician Value-Based Payment Modifier program, under which CMS will adjust payment to physicians based on the quality of care compared to costs. For 2017 (the last year in a three-year phase-in period), CMS proposes to apply the Value Modifier to physicians in groups with two or more eligible professionals (EPs) and to physicians who are solo practitioners. CMS also would apply the Value Modifier beginning in CY 2017 to non-physician EPs in groups with two or more EPs and to non-physician EPs who are solo practitioners. Moreover, CMS proposes a number of changes to the payment adjustment framework for 2017, increasing the potential upward and downward adjustment to +/- 4%.
- CMS raises concerns about “operational and program integrity issues” arising from the use of substitute (locum tenens) physicians to fill staffing needs or to replace a physician who has permanently left a medical group, particularly with regard to potentially inappropriate use of the departed physician’s Provider Transaction Access Numbers (PTAN) or National Provider Identifier (NPI). CMS solicits comments on specific questions associated with substitute physician billing arrangements as the agency considers whether to adopt regulations in this area, including with regard to implications for the physician self-referral law.
- CMS is proposing changes to its Physician Payment Sunshine Act regulations, also known as the Open Payments program. These provisions are discussed in a separate post.
- Among many other things, the proposed rule also would: establish a revised local coverage determination (LCD) process for all new draft clinical diagnostic laboratory test LCDs published on or after January 1, 2015; require physicians (and hospitals) to report a modifier for services furnished in an off-campus provider-based department; update malpractice RVUs; revise Geographic Practice Cost Indices; reduce beneficiary cost-sharing associated for anesthesia related to screening colonoscopies; and add to the list of services that can be furnished to Medicare beneficiaries under the telehealth benefit annual wellness visits, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and prolonged evaluation and management services.
CMS will accept comments on the rule until September 2, 2014.
CMS has released its highly-anticipated data files with Medicare payment data for individual Medicare physicians and certain other Part B suppliers as part of the Obama Administration’s initiative “to make our healthcare system more transparent, affordable, and accountable.” Specifically, the “Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File” contains information on utilization, payment (allowed amount and Medicare payment), and submitted charges organized by National Provider Identifier (NPI)/provider last name, Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code, and place of service for physician/supplier Part B non-institutional line items for the Medicare fee-for-service population for calendar year 2012. The files include data on services furnished by physicians, non-physician practitioners, laboratories, imaging, and ambulances, but not durable medical equipment (DME). To protect Medicare beneficiary privacy, any aggregated records derived from 10 or fewer beneficiaries are excluded from the dataset.
CMS cautions that the dataset has a number of limitations, including that the data may not be representative of a physician’s entire practice since it only includes information regarding Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries. Moreover, CMS notes that the data are not intended to indicate the quality of care provided and are not risk-adjusted to reflect differences in the severity of disease of patient populations. In an accompanying blog post, Jonathan Blum, Principal Deputy Administrator of CMS, notes that the agency hopes that “businesses and consumers alike can use these data to drive decision-making and reward quality, cost-effective care.”
On March 4, 2014, the Obama Administration released its proposed federal budget for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Virtually all types of health care providers, health plans, and drug manufacturers would be impacted by the budget provisions if adopted as proposed – an unlikely scenario given the Republican House leadership’s reaction to the document. Nevertheless, the Medicare and Medicaid savings proposals (many of which are carry-overs from prior budgets) could resurface as spending offsets in the pending negotiations on Medicare physician fee schedule reform legislation or in future budget negotiations. Highlights of the Administration’s Medicare and Medicaid legislative proposals include the following (all savings estimates are for the 10-year period of FYs 2015-2024):
Major Medicare Provider Payment Provisions
The proposed FY 2015 budget includes a package of Medicare legislative proposals estimated to save $407.2 billion over 10 years.
- Reduce Medicare coverage of bad debts from 65% in most cases to 25% over three years starting in 2015 ($30.8 billion/10 years).
- Reduce Medicare indirect medical education add-on payments by $14.6 billion (although a new targeted grant program would reinvest $5.2 billion of these savings).
- Reduce critical access hospital (CAH) reimbursement to 100% of costs ($1.7 billion) and limit CAH designation eligibility for hospitals within 10 miles of another hospital ($720 million).
- Reduce payment updates for inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs), long-term care hospitals (LTCHs), skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and home health agencies (HHAs) by 1.1 percentage points each year from 2015 through 2024 (the update could not fall below 0%). The SNF reduction would be accelerated, beginning with a -2.5% update in FY 2015, tapering down to a -0.97% update in FY 2022. These provisions would save $97.9 billion over 10 years.
- Implement bundled payment for post-acute care providers, including LTCHs, IRFs, SNFs, and HHAs beginning in 2019, with rates set to produce a permanent and total cumulative adjustment of 2.85% by 2021, and beneficiary coinsurance equal to current levels ($8.7 billion).
- Adjust the standard for classifying a facility as an IRF (at least 75% of patient cases admitted to an IRF must meet one or more of 13 designated conditions), saving $2.4 billion.
- Reduce by up to 3% payments to SNFs with high rates of care-sensitive, preventable hospital readmissions, beginning in 2018 ($1.9 billion).
- Equalize IRF and SNF payments for certain conditions involving hips and knees, pulmonary conditions, and other conditions selected by the Secretary ($1.6 billion).
- Implement a budget neutral value-based purchasing program for additional provider types, including SNFs, HHAs, ambulatory surgical centers, and hospital outpatient departments beginning in 2016. At least 2% of payments must be tied to the quality and efficiency of care.
- Align Medicare payment for clinical laboratory services with private sector rates and encourage electronic reporting of laboratory results ($7.9 billion).
- Strengthen the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) by reducing the target rate of Medicare cost growth from gross domestic product plus one percentage point to plus 0.5 percentage point, which would make it easier to trigger ACA provisions requiring reductions to Medicare provider reimbursement ($12.9 billion).
- The budget endorses reform of the sustainable growth rate formula used to update Medicare physician fee schedule payments, including a period of predictable payments followed by reimbursement tied to alternative payment models and value-based purchasing, along the lines of pending Congressional reform legislation.
Prescription Drug Provisions
- Reduce payment for physician-administered Medicare Part B drugs from 106% to 103% of average sales price (ASP). If a physician’s cost for purchasing the drug exceeds 103% of ASP, the drug manufacturer would be required to provide a rebate to ensure that the provider’s net cost to acquire the drug equals 103% of ASP minus an overhead fee to be determined by the Secretary. The Secretary would be authorized to pay a portion of the entire amount above ASP as a flat fee rather than a percentage in a budget-neutral manner. This proposal is estimated to result in $6.8 billion in savings.
- Provide Medicaid-level drug rebates for brand name and generic drugs provided to Medicare beneficiaries who receive Part D low-income subsidies, beginning in 2016 ($117.3 billion).
- Effectively close the Medicare Part D coverage gap by 2016, rather than 2020, by increasing manufacturer “coverage gap” discounts from 50% to 75% beginning in plan year 2016 ($7.9 billion).
- Allow the Secretary to suspend coverage and payment for Part D drugs (1) prescribed by providers who have misprescribed or overprescribed drugs with abuse potential, and (2) that pose an imminent risk to patients. The Secretary also could require additional information on certain Part D prescriptions, such as diagnosis and incident codes, as a condition of coverage.
- Encourage the use of generic drugs by Part D low-income subsidy beneficiaries by modifying copayments ($8.5 billion).
- Lower Medicaid drug costs by clarifying the definition of brand drugs, collecting an additional rebate for generic drugs when prices grow faster than inflation, and including certain prenatal vitamins and fluorides in the rebate program. The plan also would make a technical correction to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) alternative rebate for new drug formulations, limit to 12 quarters the timeframe for which manufacturers can dispute drug rebate amounts, exclude authorized generic drugs from average manufacturer price calculations for determining rebate obligations for brand drugs, and calculate Medicaid federal upper limits based only on generic drug prices. These proposals are projected to save $8.6 billion over 10 years.
- Direct states to track high prescribers and utilizers of Medicaid prescription drugs ($540 million).
- Require manufacturers to pay Medicaid rebate equal to the entire amount that the state has paid for the drugs in cases where the state improperly reported non-drug products as covered outpatient drugs, or where the state improperly reported drugs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found to be less than effective. In addition, the budget would allow more regular audits and surveys of manufacturers to ensure compliance with Medicaid drug rebate agreement requirements; require drugs to be electronically listed with the FDA to receive Medicaid coverage; and increase penalties for reporting false information for the calculation of Medicaid rebates.
- Increase the availability of generic drugs and biologics by authorizing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop companies from entering into “pay for delay” agreements ($9.1 billion) and modifying the length of exclusivity on brand name biologics ($4 billion).
Major Program Integrity/Efficiency Provisions
- Expand funding for the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) program, the Medicaid Integrity Program, and Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) program integrity efforts.
- Expand the current authority to exclude individuals and entities from federal health programs if they are affiliated with a sanctioned entity by closing a “loophole” that allows an officer, managing employee, or owner of a sanctioned entity to avoid exclusion by resigning his or her position or divesting his or her ownership; and extending the exclusion authority to entities affiliated with a sanctioned entity ($60 million in savings).
- Authorize civil monetary penalties or other intermediate sanctions for providers who do not update enrollment records ($90 million).
- Expand authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of abuse or neglect of Medicaid beneficiaries in non-institutional settings.
- Exclude radiation therapy, therapy services, advanced imaging, and anatomic pathology services from the in-office ancillary services exception to the prohibition against physician self-referrals (Stark law), except in cases where a practice meets certain accountability standards, as defined by the Secretary effective for calendar year 2016 ($6 billion).
- Expand the authority of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to require prior authorization for all Medicare fee-for-service items, and mandate prior authorization of advance imaging services and power mobility devices ($90 million).
- Allow the Secretary to create a system to validate practitioners’ orders for certain high-risk items and services.
- Increase reporting and review of so-called “higher-risk” banking arrangements to receive Medicare payments (such as “sweep accounts” that immediately transfer funds from a financial account to an investment account in another jurisdiction, preventing Medicare from recovering improper payments).
Other Medicare & Medicaid Provisions
- Increase the minimum Medicare Advantage (MA) coding intensity adjustment ($31 billion).
- Modify documentation requirement for face-to-face encounters for durable medical equipment (DME), orthotics, prosthetics, and supplies (DMEPOS) to allow certain non-physician practitioners to document the face-to-face encounter.
- Revise beneficiary cost-sharing requirements, including increased income-related premiums under Parts B and D, a new home health copayment, increased Part B deductible for new enrollees, and increased premiums for beneficiaries with Medigap policies with particularly low cost-sharing requirements.
- Base Medicaid rates for DME on Medicare rates ($3.1 billion).
- Rebase future Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) allotments to account for levels of uncompensated care under ACA coverage expansion ($3.3 billion).
The bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, House Ways & Means Committee, and Senate Finance Committee have released a consensus Medicare physician fee schedule reform bill expected to be considered by Congress before the latest temporary payment patch expires at the end of March. Highlights of H.R. 4015, the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act, include the following:
- The bill would repeal the statutory “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) provision, which has called for deep cuts in Medicare rates in recent years. Congress has routinely stepped in to override the full application of the formula – most recently replacing a 20.1% cut scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2014 with a 0.5% update for the first three months of 2014 – but H.R. 4015 would offer a permanent fix.
- For five years (2014-2018) the bill would provide annual Medicare physician fee schedule updates of 0.5% during a transition period to a new quality-based system (thus for 2014, the temporary 0.5% update in place through March would be extended for the full year).
- Three current physician quality programs would be consolidated into a single value-based program called the “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System,” which starting in 2018 would tie payment to performance in four categories: quality; resource use; electronic health record meaningful use; and clinical practice improvement activities. Quality measures will be developed and updated in consultation with physicians and other stakeholders.
- The bill would provide bonus payments to providers who receive a significant portion of their revenue from an alternative payment model (APM) or patient centered medical home (PCMH); the threshold would begin at 25% in 2018 and increase over time.
- The measure includes a number of other provisions designed to improve payment accuracy for individual provider services, promote appropriate use criteria for certain advanced diagnostic imaging services, expand care coordination for individuals with chronic care, and expand the use of Medicare data for transparency and quality improvement.
A formal budget estimate for the package has not yet been released, although earlier versions of the plans have had 10-year costs of more than $121 billion over 10 years. The Committees have not yet identified what “offsets” would be used to pay for the package, but cuts impacting a broad range of health care provider types, health plans, and drug manufacturers have all been unofficially floated as options.
As part of its ongoing efforts to make Medicare data more transparent and accessible, CMS has ended its blanket restriction on disclosure of information about Medicare payments to individual physicians when requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Instead, CMS will now consider on a case-by-case basis whether exemption 6 of FOIA, which requires CMS to balance the privacy interest of individual physicians against the public interest in disclosure of such information, applies to a given request for information pertaining to Medicare payments to individual physicians. CMS notes that since “the outcome of the balancing test will depend on the circumstances, the outcomes of these analyses may vary depending on the facts of each case.” In a blog post, CMS contends that potential benefits associated with release of such information could include:
- Allowing providers to collaborate on improved health care management and delivery at lower costs;
- Giving consumers broader, more reliable measures of provider quality and performance to drive innovation and competition while informing consumer choice; and
- Enabling journalists and others to identify waste, fraud, abuse, and unsafe practices.
In addition to reiterating its commitment to protecting the privacy of Medicare beneficiaries, CMS states that it intends “to consider the importance of protecting physicians’ privacy and ensuring the accuracy of any data released as well as appropriate protections to limit potential misuse of the information.” The official version of the notice will be published on January 17.
President Signs 2-Year Funding Bill with Medicare SGR Patch, Sequestration Extension for Medicare Providers
On December 26, 2013, President Obama signed into law H.J. Res. 59, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which includes the Pathway for SGR Reform Act of 2013 (“the Act”). In addition to establishing federal budget targets for fiscal years (FYs) 2014 and 2015, the Act includes a number of provisions impacting the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Most notably, the Act provides a short-term reprieve from a looming Medicare physician fee schedule cut while lawmakers work to finalize a longer-term solution. It also extends Medicare provider payment cuts under existing sequestration authority for two years and makes a variety of other policy changes. The Act’s major Medicare and Medicaid provisions are summarized below.
Short-Term Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Patch. The final Medicare physician fee schedule rule, which was published on December 10, 2013, called for a 20.1% reduction in the fee schedule update for 2014, largely as a result of the statutory sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. The Act blocks the 20.1% cut and replaces it with a 0.5% increase for services provided through March 31, 2014, resulting in a 2014 conversion factor after all adjustments of $35.8228 (note that Medicare sequestration cuts applicable to the MPFS and other Medicare payment systems continue, as described below.). This temporary payment boost is intended to provide Congress with additional time to finalize pending legislation that would permanently repeal the SGR policy and replace it with a period of stable payment followed by reimbursement linked to quality of care. Bipartisan SGR reform bills have been overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but differences in the measures must still be resolved and spending offsets need to be identified.
2-Year Extension of Medicare Sequestration Cuts. While the Act provides limited relief from sequestration cuts for certain defense and non-defense spending for FYs 2014 and 2015, the Act does not extend relief to sequestration reductions impacting mandatory programs such as Medicare; the 2% reduction to Medicare provider and plan payments therefore will continue in 2014 unless additional Congressional action is taken. In fact, the Act achieves new savings by extending sequestration for mandatory programs – including Medicare – for another two years, through 2023. The Act also “realigns” the Medicare sequestration amounts for FY 2023 to capture more of the sequestration savings during the first half of FY 2023, which falls in the legislation’s 10-year budget window. Specifically, the 2% cap on Medicare provider payment cuts will be raised to 2.9% for the first 6 months of FY 2023, and then drop to 1.11% for the second half of FY 2023. This change “scores” as $2.1 billion in savings, although the provision is billed as not increasing the overall effect of the sequester on Medicare providers. Obviously, there is a hope that Congress will adopt an alternative deficit reduction framework well before the sequestration extension would be triggered.
Extension of Therapy Cap Exceptions. The Act maintains the status quo for outpatient therapy services by extending the exceptions process for outpatient therapy caps through March 31, 2014. The Medicare program has annual limitations (or caps) on the amount of expenses a patient can accrue for outpatient therapy services in a given year. When an exception to the cap is requested for medically-necessary services furnished through March 31, 2014, therapy providers must continue to include the KX modifier on the claim form. All claims exceeding the cap continue to be subject to manual medical review. In addition, the Act extends the application of the therapy cap and exceptions to therapy services furnished in a hospital outpatient department through March 31, 2014 (which was otherwise set to expire on December 31, 2013).
Extension of Other Expiring Provisions. The Act extends for three months certain Medicare policies set to expire December 31, 2013, including: the floor used in the Medicare physician work geographic adjustment; certain ambulance add-on payments;the Qualified Individual program that reimburses states for certain Part B premiums; and the Transitional Medical Assistance program.
The Act also extends for six months (through March 31, 2014) the Medicare low-volume hospital payment and the Medicare-dependent Hospital program. In addition, the Act extends for one year the authority for Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans (through 2016) and certain Medicare reasonable cost contracts (through 2014). Funding for the National Quality Forum (NQF) for certain health care performance measurement activities is extended until currently-available funds expire.
Medicare Long Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Payments. The Act includes a number of provisions impacting the provision of and payment for LTCH services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. Among other things, the Act establishes new criteria for LTCHs to be paid under the LTCH PPS rather than the acute inpatient prospective payment system (IPPS) rate. In particular, the Act establishes new “site neutral” Medicare payment criteria for LTCH services provided on or after October 1, 2015. Subject to certain exceptions, LTCHs will be reimbursed at the rate otherwise paid under the IPPS unless the patient had a preceding hospital stay including at least three days in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or received qualifying ventilator services. The Act provides for a two-year transition to the site neutral payment rate, during which time a blended rate will be paid.
For cost reporting periods beginning in FY 2020, payment for all discharges from an LTCH may be subject to the new site neutral payment limitation unless the number of discharges for which payment is not made at the site neutral payment rate is greater than 50% of the total number of discharges for the LTCH. In other words, if the LTCH’s site neutral payment rate is 50% or greater, then all discharges (beginning in the next cost reporting period) will be reimbursed at the IPPS rate. The Act requires CMS to establish a process for an LTCH subject to the IPPS payment rate to re-qualify for payment under LTCH PPS.
Moreover, the Act delays full implementation of the so-called “25% rule” for three years, through FY 2017 (when this policy is implemented, if an LTCH admits more than the specified percentage of its patients from a single acute care hospital during a fiscal year, it will be paid at a rate comparable to the IPPS rate for patients above the specified percentage threshold). In addition, the Act extends the current moratorium on establishing or increasing LTCH beds (with certain exceptions) through September 30, 2017.
For cost reporting periods beginning on or after October 1, 2015, LTCH discharges paid at the site neutral payment rate or by a Medicare Advantage plan will be excluded from calculation of the LTCH’s average length of stay.
Medicaid DSH Payments. The Act restructures planned reductions in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments by delaying FY 2014 cuts until FY 2016 but increasing the overall level of reductions and extending cuts through FY 2023, for a total savings of $3.9 billion during the FY 2014-2023 budget window.
Strengthening Medicaid Third-Party Liability. The Act includes provisions intended to strengthen Medicaid third-party liability. Among other things, the Act reinforces Medicaid’s standing as the payer of last resort by letting states delay paying certain prenatal and preventive pediatric care claims, to the extent that doing so is cost-effective and will not adversely affect access to care. It also allows Medicaid to recover costs from beneficiary liability settlements. These provisions take effect on October 1, 2014.
On December 10, 2013, CMS published its final rule updating Medicare physician fee schedule (PFS) rates and polices for calendar year (CY) 2014, which includes a 20.1% across-the-board cut in PFS rates in 2014 (down from 24.4% projected under the proposed rule). The cuts are largely due to the statutory Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) update formula, although lawmakers are seeking agreement on legislation to block the automatic cuts. The rule also includes a number of significant Part B policy changes, including the following highlights:
- The final 2014 conversion factor (CF) is $27.2006, compared to the 2013 CF of $34.0230, mainly as a result of the statutory SGR formula. Congress is expected to override this formula, either on a temporary or permanent basis, but final action is still uncertain (see legislative update below). CMS estimates that if Congress freezes the PFS update for 2014, it would actually result in a CF of $35.6446, an increase compared to 2013, due to the application of a budget neutrality adjustment. Reimbursement changes for individual procedures vary based on numerous other policies.
- CMS did not finalize a controversial proposal under its potentially misvalued code initiative to reduce PFS rates for more than 200 codes if Medicare physician office payment exceeds the payment under the hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) or ambulatory surgical center (ASC) prospective payment system (PPS). CMS expects to develop a revised proposal for using OPPS and ASC rates in establishing physician practice expense relative value units, which CMS will propose through future notice and comment rulemaking. CMS is continuing its efforts to identify and adjust payment for potentially misvalued codes, however, including by adopting on an interim basis work relative value units for approximately 200 additional codes. These interim values are subject for public comment until January 27, 2014.
- CMS will make payment for non-face-to-face complex chronic care management services for Medicare beneficiaries who have multiple (two or more) significant chronic conditions, beginning in 2015. CMS will establish practice standards for such chronic care management services through future rulemaking.
- CMS is modifying the definition of eligible telehealth originating sites to include health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) located in rural census tracts of urban areas as determined by the Office of Rural Health Policy, which CMS expects to result in the inclusion of additional HPSAs as areas for telehealth originating sites. CMS is adding transitional care management services to the list of eligible Medicare telehealth services.
- CMS will continue implementation of the physician value-based payment modifier, which was mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to reward physicians for providing higher quality and more efficient care. The value modifier is being phased in from CY 2015 to CY 2017. CY 2014 is the performance period for the CY 2016 value modifier. CMS is finalizing plans to apply the value modifier to groups of 10 or more eligible physicians in 2016 (compared to groups of 100 or more in 2015), and increase the amount of payment at risk from 1% to 2% in 2016. CMS also is refining the methodologies used to calculate the value modifier to better identify both high and low performers for upward and downward payment adjustments.
- CMS has adopted its proposal to amend the “incident to” regulations to require that services and supplies be furnished in accordance with applicable state law, and that the individual performing “incident to” services meet any applicable requirements to provide the services, including state licensure requirements. The policy is intended to ensure that auxiliary personnel providing services to Medicare beneficiaries “incident to” the services of other practitioners do so in accordance with applicable state requirements, and that Medicare payments can be recovered when such services are not furnished in compliance with the state law.
- CMS has adopted without change its proposed process to systematically reexamine payment amounts under the Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedule to determine if changes in technology for the delivery of that service (e.g., changes to the tools, machines, supplies, labor, instruments, skills, techniques, and devices by which laboratory tests are produced and used) warrant an adjustment to the payment amount. Beginning with the CY 2015 PFS proposed rule, CMS will identify the test code, discuss how it has been impacted by technological changes, and propose an associated payment adjustment. CMS will solicit comments, and any payment adjustment would be adopted in the final rule, beginning with the CY 2015 final rule.
- CMS is establishing a centralized review process under which a single entity will make Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) coverage decisions, although the policy will not be implemented until 2015. The rule also establishes minimum standards for IDE studies and trials for which Medicare coverage of devices or routine items and services is provided (but CMS dropped earlier references to pivotal study and superiority study design criteria).
- CMS will apply the outpatient therapy cap limitations and related policies to outpatient therapy services furnished in a critical access hospital beginning on January 1, 2014, in conformance with the American Taxpayers Relief Act (ATRA).
- The final rule also addresses, among many other things: updates to the geographic practice cost indices; revisions to the calculation of the Medicare Economic Index; revisions to the Physician Quality Reporting System and the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive program; revisions to regulations regarding liability for overpayments to conform to ATRA provisions with regard to the timing of the triggering event for the ‘‘without fault’’ and ‘‘against equity and good conscience’’ presumptions; and updates to the ambulance fee schedule regulations to conform with statutory requirements.
In light of the late release of the final Medicare PFS rule, CMS is extending the annual Medicare participation enrollment period for 2014 through January 31, 2014 (instead of the window ending on December 31, 2013). During this period, eligible physicians, practitioners, and suppliers may change their participation status, but the effective date for any participation status changes remains January 1, 2014.
On December 12, 2013, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take up legislation to repeal the Medicare PFS sustainable growth rate formula and extend certain expiring health care provisions. While the current Congressional calendar leaves little time to address the latest round of SGR cuts before they take effect on January 1, 2014 (as discussed above), Congress may provide a short-term patch to provide additional time to consider more sweeping overhaul legislation. This situation is still very fluid, however, and the timing and scope of ultimate legislative action is still uncertain.
On October 16, 2013, the House and Senate approved H.R. 2775, the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014. Under the resolution, the federal government was reopened, after being closed since October 1, 2013. The resolution also funds government operations through January 15, 2014 and suspends the debt limit through February 7, 2014. In the only health care policy provision, HHS is directed to verify the income of individuals applying for premium tax credits under the ACA. As part of the agreement, the House and Senate also agreed to go to conference on a budget resolution to establish the Congressional budget for FY 2014, which started October 1, 2013, and to set budget levels for FY 2015. Conferees are directed to present a budget agreement to Congress by December 13, 2013. As part of the conference deliberations, lawmakers are expected to address Medicare funding to some extent, particularly as lawmakers seek to avert an upcoming steep reduction in Medicare physician fee schedule payments and to extend certain Medicare provisions that expire at the end of the year. Any increases in Medicare program spending are typically offset by other health program cuts, so a wide range of Medicare policies could still be in play this year.
On August 6, 2013, CMS released a request for public comment on how the agency can promote greater transparency regarding physician-specific Medicare payment information. CMS is seeking input on the following specific issues:
- Whether physicians have a privacy interest in information concerning payments they receive from Medicare and, if so, how to properly weigh the balance between that privacy interest and the public interest in disclosure of Medicare payment information, including physician-identifiable reimbursement data;
- What specific policies CMS should consider with respect to disclosure of individual physician payment data that will further the goals of improving the quality and value of care, enhancing access and availability of CMS data, increasing transparency in government, and reducing fraud, waste, and abuse within CMS programs; and
- The form in which CMS should release information about individual physician payment, should CMS choose to release it (e.g., line item claim details, aggregated data at the individual physician level).
The request stems from a May 31, 2013 Florida federal district court decision that lifted a previous injunction prohibiting CMS from disclosing annual Medicare reimbursement payments to individual physicians. CMS notes that it is not considering public disclosure of any information that could directly or indirectly reveal patient-identifiable information. CMS will accept comments on this issue until September 5, 2013. A related CMS blog post is available here.
On July 19, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its proposed rule updating Medicare physician fee schedule (PFS) rates and polices for calendar year (CY) 2014. CMS projects that PFS payments will be reduced by approximately 24.4% in 2014, largely due to the statutory Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) update formula (although Congress is expected to eventually take action to block the automatic cuts, as it has in the past). The rule also includes a number of significant policy proposals, including the following highlights:
- Under the proposed rule, CMS projects an estimated 2014 conversion factor of $25.7109, adjusted to $26.8199 to include a budget neutrality adjustment, compared to the 2013 conversion factor of $34.0230. As noted, Congress could override the SGR formula on either a temporary or permanent basis, but the timing and scope of any such action is uncertain. Reimbursement changes for individual procedures would vary based on numerous other policy proposals and updates.
- Under its potentially misvalued code initiative, CMS is proposing to reduce PFS rates for more than 200 codes if Medicare physician office payment exceeds the payment in the outpatient hospital department or ambulatory surgical center (ASC) setting. CMS proposes limiting PFS payment in such cases to the total payment that Medicare would make to the practitioner and the facility when the service is furnished in a hospital outpatient department or ASC. Certain services would be exempt from this provision, including services without separate hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) payment rates and codes already subject to cuts pursuant to the Deficit Reduction Act imaging cap, among others). CMS estimates that this policy would have the biggest negative impact on allowed charges for independent laboratory PFS payments, radiation therapy center services, and pathology services. CMS also proposes to examine other specific codes as part of the agency’s ongoing review of misvalued codes.
- CMS proposes to make payments for non-face-to-face complex chronic care management services for Medicare beneficiaries who have multiple (two or more) significant chronic conditions. This provision would be implemented in 2015 to provide sufficient time to develop and obtain public input on the standards necessary to demonstrate the capability to provide these services.
- CMS proposes to modify the definition of eligible telehealth originating sites to include health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) located in rural census tracts of urban areas as determined by the Office of Rural Health Policy, which CMS expects to result in the inclusion of additional HPSAs as areas for telehealth originating sites. CMS also proposes adding transitional care management services to the list of eligible Medicare telehealth services.
- CMS proposes to continue implementation of the physician value-based payment modifier (Value Modifier), which was mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to reward physicians for providing higher quality and more efficient care. The Value Modifier is being phased in from CY 2015 to CY 2017, with CY 2013 serving as the initial performance period for the CY 2015 Value Modifier. In the proposed 2014 rule, CMS calls for the value modifier to apply to groups of 10 or more eligible physicians in 2016 (compared to groups of 100 or more in 2015), and increases the amount of payment at risk from 1% to 2% in 2016. CMS also proposes to refine the methodologies used to calculate the value-based payment modifier to better identify both high and low performers for upward and downward payment adjustments.
- CMS proposes to amend the “incident to” regulations to require that services and supplies be furnished in accordance with applicable state law, and that the individual performing “incident to” services meet any applicable requirements to provide the services, including state licensure requirements. CMS is proposing this policy to ensure that auxiliary personnel providing services to Medicare beneficiaries incident to the services of other practitioners do so in accordance with applicable state requirements, and to ensure that Medicare payments can be recovered when such services are not furnished in compliance with the state law.
- CMS proposes a process to systematically reexamine payment amounts under the Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedule (CLFS) to determine if changes in technology for the delivery of that service (e.g., changes to the tools, machines, supplies, labor, instruments, skills, techniques, and devices by which laboratory tests are produced and used) warrant an adjustment to the payment amount. Beginning with the CY 2015 PFS proposed rule, CMS would identify the test code, discuss how it has been impacted by technological changes, and propose an associated payment adjustment. CMS would solicit comments, and any payment adjustment would be adopted in the final rule, beginning with the CY 2015 final rule. CMS would first examine the codes that have been on the CLFS the longest and then work forward, over multiple years, until all of the codes on the CLFS have been reviewed.
- CMS proposes a centralized review process under which a single entity would be responsible for making Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) coverage decisions. The rule also would establish minimum standards for IDE studies and trials for which Medicare coverage of devices or routine items and services is provided (including pivotal study and superiority study design criteria).
- CMS proposes to apply the outpatient therapy cap limitations and related policies to outpatient therapy services furnished in a critical access hospital beginning on January 1, 2014, in conformance with the American Taxpayers Relief Act (ATRA).
- The sweeping rule also addresses, among many other things: updates to the geographic practice cost indices (GPCIs) and revisions to the weights assigned to each GPCI to increase the weight of work and reduce the weight of practice expense; revisions to the calculation of the Medicare Economic Index (MEI); revisions to the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive program; revisions to regulations regarding liability for overpayments to conform to ATRA provisions with regard to the timing of the triggering event for the ‘‘without fault’’ and ‘‘against equity and good conscience’’ presumptions; and updates to the ambulance fee schedule regulations to conform with statutory requirements.
The comment deadline is September 6, 2013.
On July 23, 2013, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee approved legislation to repeal the Medicare physician fee schedule SGR formula and replace it with a period of stable payment followed by reimbursement linked to quality of care. In the first phase, the legislation would set the fee schedule update for each of years 2014 through 2018 at 0.5%. During this time, the current law payment incentives, such as the PQRS and the EHR Incentive Program will continue. After that 5-year period, providers will receive an annual update of 0.5%, but an additional update adjustment would be based on quality performance under a new Update Incentive Program (UIP). Eligible professionals could choose at any time to opt-out of the fee-for-service program and participate in alternative payment models. The bill also requires the Secretary to implement a system for the periodic reporting by physicians of data on the accuracy of relative values for physician services, such as data relating to service volume and time; the Secretary could provide incentive payments to providers for reporting this data. The bill also directs Medicare to identify improperly valued services to reduce net physician fee schedule expenditures by 1% per year for 2016 through 2018 (not budget neutral). The full Committee is expected to vote on the legislation later this week.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is inviting comments on advance draft legislation to repeal the Medicare physician fee schedule sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and replace it with a system linking payment to quality of care. Comments will be accepted until July 9, 2013. In a related development, on July 10, the Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on "Repealing the SGR (Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate) and the Path Forward: A View from CMS.”
Recent Congressional hearings focusing on health policy include the following:
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on health insurance premiums under the ACA and drug compounding. The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee also held a hearing on "Reforming SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate): Prioritizing Quality in a Modernized Physician Payment System," which reviewed draft SGR reform legislative language. A June 12 hearing will focus on the state perspective on the need for Medicaid reform, and a June 14 hearing will examine the federal government's response to the prescription drug abuse crisis.
- A House Ways and Means Committee Health Subcommittee hearing addressed the “President's and Other Bipartisan Proposals to Reform Medicare," and the panel has scheduled a June 14 hearing to concentrate on proposals to reform Medicare post-acute care payments.
- The Homeland Security Committee held a second hearing on “Oversight and Business Practices of Durable Medical Equipment Companies.”
- The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing entitled “10 Years Later: A Look at the Medicare Prescription Drug Program."
Following a similar initiative on the House side, leaders of the Senate Finance Committee are inviting provider input on Medicare physician payment system reform. Specifically, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are requesting information on: (1) what specific reforms should be made to the physician fee schedule to ensure that physician services are valued appropriately; (2) what specific policies should be implemented that could co-exist with the current physician payment system and would identify and reduce unnecessary utilization to improve health and reduce Medicare spending growth; and (3) within the current fee-for-service system, how can Medicare most effectively incentivize physician practices to undertake the structural, behavioral, and other changes needed to participate in alternative payment models? Additional information, including a full copy of letter from Senators Baucus and Hatch to the health care provider community, is available here. Responses are due by May 31, 2013. The panel also has scheduled a May 14 hearing on "Advancing Reform: Medicare Physicians Payments."