Thursday, April 16, 2015

Health IT Implications of MACRA and MIPS

The Senate has voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday April 14, 2015 to permanently repeal Medicare's sustainable growth-rate (SGR) formula for paying doctors. The House House had easily passed the legislation on Thursday March 26, 2015. The President signed the legislation on April 16, 2015.

The legislation was introduced by bipartisan committee leaders in the House and Senate to permanently replace the sustainable growth rate. The bipartisan, bicameral bill seeks to end the cycle of annual ‘Doc Fix’ crises that have created uncertainty for millions of Medicare providers and beneficiaries for over a decade and also create a system that promotes higher quality care for America’s seniors, according to the announcement on the Energy and Commerce website.

There are some significant health IT implications of the legislation. It includes many of the exact provisions proposed a year ago in the SGR fix that was being spearheaded by the Senate Finance Committee. You can read the legislation HERE, but I have peeled off section 2 from the Section by Section analysis created for the Energy and Commerce Committee (very similar to what Senator Wyden used last year :). Read below and learn how Congress plans to roll up meaningful use, value-based payments, and other programs into the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)...

Sec. 2. Repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and Improving Medicare Payment for Physicians’ Services.

This section repeals the SGR to provide long-term stability to the Medicare physician fee schedule. It provides stable updates for five years and ensures no changes are made to the current payment system for four years. In 2019, it establishes a streamlined and improved incentive payment program that will focus the fee-for-service system on providing value and quality. The incentive payment program, referred to as the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), consolidates the three existing incentive programs, continuing the focus on quality, resource use, and meaningful electronic health record (EHR) use with which professionals are familiar, but in a cohesive program that avoids redundancies. Further, this section provides financial incentive(s) for professionals to participate in tests of alternative payment models (APMs).

Stabilizing Fee Updates

The flawed SGR mechanism is permanently repealed, averting a 21 percent SGR-induced cut scheduled for April 1, 2015. Professionals will receive an annual update of 0.5 percent in each of the years 2015 through 2019. The rates in 2019 will be maintained through 2025, while providing professionals with the opportunity to receive additional payment adjustments through the MIPS. In 2026 and subsequent years, professionals participating in APMs that meet certain criteria would receive annual updates of one percent, while all other professionals would receive annual updates of 0.5 percent.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is required to submit reports to Congress in 2019 evaluating the impact that the 2015-2019 updates have on beneficiary access and quality of care, with recommendations regarding further updates. Further, MedPAC will submit reports to Congress in 2017 and 2021 that assess the relationship between spending on services furnished by professionals under Medicare Part B and total expenditures under Medicare Parts A, B, and D. These reports recognize the critical role that professionals have in directing care and utilization by evaluating their impact on total program spending, including under the MIPS program.
Consolidating Current Law Programs into a unified MIPS
Payments to professionals will be adjusted based on performance in the unified MIPS starting in 2019. The MIPS streamlines and improves on the three distinct current law incentive programs:

  • The Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) that incentivizes professionals to report on quality of care measures;
  • The Value-Based Modifier (VBM) that adjusts payment based on quality and resource use in a budget-neutral manner; and
  • Meaningful use of EHRs (EHR MU) that entails meeting certain requirements in the use of certified EHR systems. 
Sunsetting Current Law Incentive Program Payment Implications

The payment implications associated with the current law incentive program penalties are sunset at the end of 2018, including the 2 percent penalty for failure to report PQRS quality measures and the 3 percent (increasing to 5 percent in 2019) penalty for failure to meet EHR MU requirements. The money from penalties that would have been assessed would now remain in the physician fee schedule, significantly increasing total payments compared to the current law baseline.

Professionals to Whom MIPS Applies

The MIPS will apply to: doctors of medicine or osteopathy, doctors of dental surgery or dental medicine, doctors of podiatric medicine, doctors of optometry, chiropractors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and certified registered nurse anesthetists beginning in 2019. Other professionals paid under the physician fee schedule may be included in the MIPS beginning in 2021, provided there are viable performance metrics available. Professionals who treat few Medicare patients, as well as professionals who receive a significant portion of their revenues from eligible APM(s) will be excluded from the MIPS.

MIPS Assessment Categories

The MIPS will assess the performance of eligible professionals in four categories: quality; resource use; EHR Meaningful Use; and clinical practice improvement activities.

  1. Quality. Measures used for this performance category will be published annually in the final measures list developed under the methodology specified below. In addition to measures used in the existing quality performance programs (PQRS, VBM, EHR MU), the Secretary would solicit recommended measures and fund professional organizations and others to develop additional measures. Measures used by qualified clinical data registries may also be used to assess performance under this category.
  2. Resource Use. The resource use category will include measures used in the current VBM program. The methodology that CMS is currently developing to identify resources associated with specific care episodes would be enhanced through public input and an additional process that directly engages professionals. The additional process allows professionals to report their specific role in treating the beneficiary (e.g., primary care or specialist) and the type of treatment (e.g., chronic condition, acute episode). This additional process addresses concerns that algorithms and patient attribution rules fail to accurately link the cost of services to a professional. Resource use measurement would also reflect additional research and recommendations on how to improve risk adjustment methodologies to ensure that professionals are not penalized for serving sicker or more costly patients.
  3. Meaningful Use. Current EHR Meaningful Use requirements, demonstrated by use of a certified system, will continue to apply in order to receive credit in this category. To prevent duplicative reporting, professionals who report quality measures through certified EHR systems for the MIPS quality category are deemed to meet the meaningful use clinical quality measure component. 
  4. Clinical Practice Improvement Activities. Professionals will be assessed on their effort to engage in clinical practice improvement activities. Incorporation of this new component gives credit to professionals working to improve their practices and facilitates future participation in APMs. The menu of recognized activities will be established in collaboration with professionals. Activities must be applicable to all specialties and attainable for small practices and professionals in rural and underserved areas.
Annual List of Quality Measures Used in MIPS

Every year, the Secretary, through notice and comment rulemaking, will publish a list of quality measures to be used in the forthcoming MIPS performance period. Updates and modifications to the list of quality measures will also occur through this process. Eligible professionals will select which measures on the final list to report and be assessed on.

Eligible professional organizations and other relevant stakeholders will identify and submit quality measures to be considered for selection and to identify and submit updates to the measures already on the list. Measures may be submitted regardless of whether such measures were previously published in a proposed rule or endorsed by a consensus-based entity that holds a contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Any measure selected for inclusion in such list that is not endorsed by a consensus-based entity must be evidence-based.

To the extent practicable, quality measures selected for inclusion on the final list will address all five of the following quality domains: clinical care, safety, care coordination, patient and caregiver experience, and population health and prevention. Before including a new measure in the final list, the Secretary will submit the measure for publication in an applicable specialty-appropriate peer-reviewed journal, including the method for developing and selecting the measure.
Qualified clinical data registry measures, many of which are maintained by physician specialty organizations, and existing quality measures will not be subject to these additional requirements and will be automatically included in the first program year’s final list of quality measures. These measures will remain in the MIPS program unless they are removed under the rulemaking process.

Composite Performance Score

Professionals will receive a composite performance score of 0-100 based on their performance in each of the four performance categories listed above. Professionals will only be assessed on the categories, measures, and activities that apply to them. Scoring weights for performance categories, measures, and activities may be adjusted as necessary, to account for a professional’s ability to successfully report on such category measure or activity and to ensure that individuals are measured on an equitable basis.

To incentivize improved performance, professionals will also receive credit for improvement from one year to the next in the determination of their quality and resource use performance category score and may receive credit for improvement in clinical practice improvement activities. 

MIPS Payment Adjustment

Each eligible professional’s composite score will be compared to a performance threshold. The performance threshold will be the mean or median of the composite performance scores for all MIPS eligible professionals during a period prior to the performance period. Professionals will know what composite score they must achieve to obtain incentive payments and avoid penalties at the beginning of each performance period.

Payment adjustments will follow a linear distribution. Eligible professionals whose composite performance scores fall above the threshold will receive positive payment adjustments and eligible professionals whose composite performance scores fall below the threshold will receive negative payment adjustments.
  • Negative adjustments – Negative payment adjustments will be capped at four percent in 2019, five percent in 2020, seven percent in 2021, and nine percent in 2022. Eligible professionals whose composite performance score falls between 0 and 1⁄4 of the threshold will receive the maximum possible negative payment adjustment for the year. Professionals with composite performance scores closer to the threshold will receive proportionally smaller negative payment adjustments. These negative payment adjustments for eligible professionals whose composite performance scores fall below the threshold will fund positive payment adjustments to professionals with composite performance scores above the threshold.
  • Zero adjustments – Eligible professionals whose composite performance score is at the threshold will not receive a MIPS payment adjustment.
  • Positive adjustments – Eligible professionals whose composite performance scores are above the threshold will receive positive payment adjustments. Eligible professionals with higher performance scores will receive proportionally larger incentive payments up to a maximum of three times the annual cap for negative payment adjustments.
    Additional Incentive Payment – An additional performance threshold for exceptional performance will be set at the 25th percentile of the range between the initial performance threshold and 100 (e.g., if the performance threshold is a score of 60, the additional performance threshold would be a score of 70) or the 25th percentile of actual composite performance scores for MIPS eligible professionals with composite scores at or above the initial performance threshold (i.e., 75 percent of professionals who receive a positive payment adjustment would receive an additional payment adjustment). Eligible professionals with composite scores above the additional performance threshold will receive an additional incentive payment. Aggregate additional incentive payments will be capped at $500 million per year for each of 2019 through 2024. Additional incentive payments will be allocated according to a linear distribution, with better performers receiving larger incentive payments. These payments will enable some professionals to receive incentive payments even if all professionals score above the initial threshold. 
A professional’s payment adjustment in one year will have no impact on their payment adjustment in a future year.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is required to evaluate the MIPS and issue a report in and 2021, including an assessment of the professional types, practice sizes, practice geography, and patient mix that are receiving MIPS payment increases and reductions.

Expanded Participation Options and Tools to Enable Success

Professionals will have the flexibility to participate in MIPS in a way that best fits their practice environment. These options include: use of EHRs, use of qualified clinical data registries maintained by physician specialty organizations, and the option to be assessed as a group, as a “virtual” group, or with an affiliated hospital or facility.

Technical assistance will be available to help practices with 15 or fewer professionals improve MIPS performance or transition to APMs. Priority will be given to practices with low MIPS scores and those in rural and underserved areas. Funding will be $20 million annually from 2016 to 2020.
Professionals will receive confidential feedback on performance in the quality and resource use categories at least quarterly, likely through a web-based portal. Professionals may also receive confidential feedback on performance through qualified clinical data registries.

Encouraging Participation in APMs

Professionals who receive a significant share of their revenues through an APM(s) that involves risk of financial losses and a quality measurement component will receive a five percent bonus each year from 2019-2024. A patient-centered medical home APM will be exempted from the downside financial risk requirement if proven to work in the Medicare population. Two tracks will be available for professionals to qualify for the bonus. The first option will be based on receiving a significant percent of Medicare revenue through an APM; the second will be based on receiving a significant percent of APM revenue combined from Medicare and other payers. The second option makes it possible for professionals to qualify for the bonus even if Medicare APM options are unavailable in their area. If no Medicaid APM is available in a state, a professional’s Medicaid revenue will not be counted against the proportion of revenue in an APM. In states where Medicaid APMs are available, Medicaid medical homes will also be exempted from downside financial risk if they are proven to work in the Medicaid population.

Professionals who meet these criteria will be excluded from the MIPS assessment and most EHR meaningful use requirements.

The bonus payment for APM participation encourages professionals to consider participation and testing of new APMs, recognizes that practice changes are needed to facilitate such participation, and promotes the alignment of incentives across payers.

To make the bonus opportunity available to the greatest number of professionals, the Secretary is specifically encouraged to test APMs relevant to specialty professionals, professionals in small practices, and those that align with private and state-based payer initiatives. Further, a Technical Advisory Committee will be established to consider physician-focused APM proposals. CMS would be required to provide a detailed response to TAC-recommended APMs. The section also requires HHS to identify potential fraud vulnerabilities in APMs.
 Prepared by the House Committees on Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means
*This summary does not include provisions in H.R.4015/S.2000 that were passed as part of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014.