Medicare Announces FY 2019 Inpatient Payments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released its FY 2019 payment schedule for Medicare inpatient services.

Highlights of the FY 2019 inpatient prospective payment system regulation include:

  • A 1.75 percent increase in fee-for-service rates.
  • A $1.5 billion increase in Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicare DSH).
  • Major reductions of the quality measures hospitals must report for Medicare’s inpatient quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs.
  • A requirement that hospitals post their standard charges on the internet.

Learn about these and other aspects of Medicare’s FY 2019 inpatient prospective payment system regulation by seeing this Medicare fact sheet or go here to see the 2593-page (!) regulation itself.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Changes in Medicare Payments (Part 3 of 3)

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Association of Urban Hospitals has offered extensive comments on CMS’s proposed regulation describing how it intends to pay hospitals for Medicare-covered services in FY 2019.  NAUH offered these comments in response to CMS’s request for stakeholder input.

In this space yesterday NAUH presented its comments on the Medicare Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, quality reporting, multi-campus hospitals, and documentation required for Medicare cost reports.  On Wednesday NAUH presented its comments to CMS regarding how the agency proposes calculating Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) payments in the coming fiscal year.  Today, NAUH shares its views on aspects of the proposed regulation that address the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program, Medicare’s quality reporting program, multi-campus hospitals, and documentation required when filing Medicare cost reports.

Today, NAUH shares its response to CMS’s request for comments on the Medicare area wage index system.

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Medicare Area Wage Index:   Response to Request for Comment

While acknowledging the challenges that the current Medicare area wage index poses at times, in general NAUH supports the current Medicare area wage index system and believes it superior to any alternative that has been proposed in recent years.  We believe wage adjustments based on the cost of labor in different parts of this country are absolutely essential for Medicare because those costs vary so greatly in different geographic areas.  The concerns periodically expressed by some that certain parts of the country are ill-served by the current wage index system are, in our view, based on sentiment and emotion rather than on fact; the data does not support their assertions, and when circumstances change, the current system gives those who feel ill-served by that system ample and fair opportunities to address what they perceive to be inappropriate treatment.

We are especially concerned about a proposal that appears to resurface every few years:  that the wage data upon which wage adjustments are made should come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rather than from actual, real-time hospital wage data.  NAUH believes this is a bad idea.  We do not see the value of using broad categories of data that fail to reflect real employment markets and conditions when actual hospital wage data that does reflect actual hospital wage costs is available and verifiable.

One of the most important factors in wage index calculations, for example, is wages paid to nurses.  BLS data, however, does not capture important differences within the nursing profession, inappropriately lumping nurses who work in different settings into a single category.  In so doing, BLS data ignores the sometimes considerable differences in skill and education levels required of nurses in different settings – hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, public health facilities, and others – and the considerable differences in wages required to recruit nurses to these different settings and then retain them.  Hospital nurses, for example, require a different, higher level of skill and education than nurses in other settings.  They also work in a more stressful environment and work less desirable hours, including evening and overnight shifts.  As a result, hospitals must offer nurses more money than nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and others.  Some states, moreover, have legal nurse staffing requirements that increase the demand for hospital nurses, which in turn increases how much money hospitals must pay to ensure that they can meet their nurse staffing requirements.  BLS data reflects none of these distinctions and therefore would offer a poor foundation upon which to make broad policy decisions that would have a major impact on hospitals and, no less important, on the communities hospitals serve.  In addition, reporting wage data to BLS is voluntary, and in any geographic areas where BLS concludes that it did not receive enough responses to calculate average wage costs, it infers such data.  NAUH disapproves of this approach and again believes it is better to use actual hospital wage data than incomplete and possibly even inferred data.

NAUH strongly encourages CMS to reject any shift to the use of BLS data in the calculation of Medicare wage adjustments and instead urges CMS to continue to base hospital wage adjustments on real hospital wage costs as reported by hospitals and as audited periodically by CMS.  In addition, if CMS wishes to pursue possible changes in the wage index system, NAUH urges it subject the process to fresh analysis – many of the reviews that call attention to the system’s challenges are outdated – and to convene a broad-based group of providers and other stakeholders to evaluate the challenges and explore potential improvements or alternatives.

Helping Safety-Net Hospitals Help Their Patients

A new report published on the Health Affairs Blog describes the continuing challenges safety-net hospitals face and offers suggestions for helping them meet those challenges.

The challenges, according to the report, are the virtual elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate; the continued decline in the amount of Medicare disproportionate share hospital money (Medicare DSH) provided to safety-net hospitals; and hospital closures that shift more of the burden for caring for uninsured patients onto a smaller pool of safety-net hospitals.  The result is under-served patients and new financial risks for the hospitals that remain after some safety-net hospitals close because of the large amounts of uncompensated care those hospitals continue to provide.

To address these challenges, the report offers three potential solutions:

  • Congress should revisit the Medicare DSH cuts.
  • States should target their DSH money to the hospitals providing the most uncompensated care.
  • Non-profit non-safety-net hospitals that stabilize uninsured emergency patients and then direct them to safety-net hospitals should be required to play a longer-term role in the care of such patients as part of their required community benefit or risk losing their tax-exempt status.

Learn more about the challenges safety-net hospitals continue to face and some of the possible solutions to those problems by going here, to the Health Affairs Blog, to see the report “Safety-Net Health Systems at Risk:  Who Bears The Burden Of Uncompensated Care?”

New 340B Bill Proposed

A new bill introduced in the House seeks to bring greater transparency to the controversial 340B prescription drug discount program.

Under H.R.5598, proposed by Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), hospitals would be required to report the outpatient care they provide to low-income patients in both their main hospital and at pediatric care sites.  Hospitals already separately report the inpatient care they provide to such patients.

According to Representative Carter,

I introduced this legislation today because I believe the 340B program is very important, but it needs to be improved.  340B is an outpatient program and currently hospitals do not have to report low-income utilization in outpatient settings. This legislation adds an additional layer of transparency to allow us to better understand the patient makeup of DSH hospitals to improve the program and ensure it is truly being used in the most effective way for our nation’s most vulnerable patients.

The 340B program provides discounts to qualified hospitals when they dispense drugs on an outpatient basis to low-income patients.  All Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) hospitals, along with other providers that meet formal criteria, qualify to participate in the program.  All NAUH members participate in the 340B program.

Learn more about the bill from this news release from Representative Carter or see the bill itself.

 

CMS Proposes Regulatory Changes in EHR Incentive and Readmissions Reduction Programs

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a proposal detailing how it envisions paying for Medicare services in FY 2019 under its inpatient prospective payment system.

Yesterday this space featured a summary of the proposed changes in inpatient rates, Medicare disproportionate share payments (Medicare DSH) and how they would be calculated, and proposed changes in the Medicare area wage index system.

Today we look at proposed changes in regulations governing multi-campus hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record incentive programs, and the hospital readmissions reduction program.

Recognizing Multi-Campus Hospitals

Recognizing the considerable consolidation taking place in the hospital industry, CMS proposes several new regulations outlining how multi-campus hospitals can demonstrate that they satisfy the criteria for being a Rural Referral Center or a Sole-Community Hospital.  In general, the proposed regulations attempt to treat the hospitals as a single entity but address specific circumstances unique to multi-campus hospitals that currently are either ambiguous or wholly unaddressed in existing regulations.  CMS notes that these new regulations would constitute a change in the conditions under which an application would approved for existing multi-campus hospitals already deemed as meeting Rural Referral Center or Sole-Community Hospital criteria and that these hospitals have a responsibility to notify CMS if they no longer qualify for such status.

Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs

CMS proposes overhauling its Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, frequently referred to as “meaningful use,” to make them more flexible and less burdensome; to emphasize measures that require the exchange of health information between providers and patients; and to give providers incentives to make it easier for patients to obtain their medical records electronically.  In the proposed rule, CMS calls for changes in the EHR incentive program to promote greater interoperability and to make the EHR incentive program more flexible and less burdensome by placing a strong emphasis on measures that require the exchange of health information between providers and patients.

With this in mind, CMS has renamed its meaningful use program “Promoting Interoperability.”  As part of this updated program, it requires providers to use the 2015 edition of certified electronic health record technology in 2019 to demonstrate meaningful use, qualify for incentive payments, and avoid reductions of Medicare payments.  CMS also proposes eliminating 25 total reporting measures across the five programs.  See the CMS fact sheet for specific information.

Promoting Interoperability Request for Information

In the proposed rule, CMS includes a request for information to obtain feedback from stakeholders on solutions to better achieve interoperability or the sharing of health care data between providers.  Specifically, it requests feedback on the possibility of revising conditions of participation related to interoperability as a way to increase electronic sharing of data by hospitals.

Medicare Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program

The 21st Century Cures Act requires that CMS begin assessing hospital readmission performance by comparing hospitals’ performance to that of similar hospitals, with “similar” to be based on the proportion of dual-eligible Medicare-Medicaid patients they serve.  As proposed last year, CMS will assign eligible hospitals into five equal-sized peer groups based on their proportion of dual-eligible patients.  This is the first year this approach will be employed.  The measures to be used in the program will remain the same.

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Tomorrow we will look at the Medicare value-based purchasing program, the hospital inpatient quality reporting program, electronic clinical quality measures, and price transparency.

You also can learn more by reviewing the entire proposed 1883-page rule here or reading the CMS fact sheet here.

 

 

CMS Proposes Changes in Inpatient Rates, Medicare DSH, and Wage Index

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a proposal detailing how it envisions paying for Medicare services in FY 2019 under its inpatient prospective payment system.

Yesterday this space features a summary of the proposed regulation, with an emphasis on aspects of the rule of greatest importance to private safety-net hospitals.

Today, we address Medicare inpatient rates, Medicare disproportionate share payments (Medicare DSH) and the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet, and the Medicare area wage index.

Inpatient Rates

CMS proposes increasing Medicare inpatient rates 1.75 percent in FY 2019.  This reflects the projected hospital market basket update of 2.8 percent reduced by a 0.8 percentage point productivity adjustment, increased by a 0.5 percentage point adjustment required by legislation, and reduced 0.75 percentage points as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Medicare DSH Uncompensated Care Payments and the S-10

CMS proposes distributing $8.25 billion in Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments in FY 2019, a $1.5 billion increase from FY 2018, citing as its reason for this increase both an increase in the CMS Office of the Actuary’s estimate of payments that would otherwise be made for Medicare DSH and an updated estimate of the change in the percentage of uninsured individuals since 2014 based on the latest available data.

CMS also proposes continuing its phase-in of the use of S-10 data in the calculation of Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments.  FY 2019 would be year two of this phase-in, and CMS proposes using S-10 data from FY 2014 and FY 2015 cost reports, in combination with insured low-income days data from FY 2013 cost reports, to determine the distribution of Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments.

CMS is engaged in limited review of some of the uncompensated care data hospitals report on their S-10 form.  According to the proposed rule, these efforts have focused on three types of problems:  unreasonably high cost-to-charge ratios, significant increases in charity care from FY 2014 to FY 2015, and hospitals that report uncompensated care that exceeds 50 percent of their operating costs.

 Medicare Area Wage Index

Every three years CMS updates the wage index to reflect more recent data it collects from the occupational mix survey.  FY 2019 is the first year of a new three-year period for using updated data, and this will result in greater changes in wage indexes than might otherwise be expected from year to year.

CMS proposes changing the deadline for when a hospital that reclassifies from urban to rural will have that reclassification considered in the development of the wage index for a fiscal year.  This proposal would change the threshold from being based on the application’s date of submission to the application’s date of approval.

CMS also proposes changes that would address certain situations arising from lags between when wage index data is reported and when that data is evaluated for reclassification purposes.  These changes would address lag issues for new remote locations of hospitals located in counties participating in group reclassifications and for single-hospital MSAs where new hospitals have opened but that have no data in the wage index files for that MSA.

FY 2019 will mark the first year in which the imputed rural floor (which exists in states where there are no rural areas) will be eliminated.  CMS announced this in last year’s rule.  The only states to which the imputed rural floor applied were Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island and this change will actually only affect hospitals in Rhode Island.

Wage Index Invitation to Comment

The proposed rule describes past efforts to revise the wage index, including past proposals from MedPAC and others.  It invites interested parties to submit comments on regulatory and policy improvements related to the wage index.

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Tomorrow we will look at multi-campus hospitals, the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, and the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program.  On Thursday we will examine the Medicare value-based purchasing program, the hospital inpatient quality reporting program, electronic clinical quality measures, and price transparency.

You also can learn more by reviewing the entire proposed 1883-page rule here or reading the CMS fact sheet here.

 

CMS Publishes Proposed FY 2019 Inpatient PPS Regulation

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a proposal detailing how it envisions paying for Medicare services in FY 2019 under its inpatient prospective payment system.

The following are the proposed rule’s highlights:

  • A 1.75 percent proposed increase of inpatient rates.
  • A $1.5 billion increase in the Medicare DSH uncompensated care payment pool during year two of the three-year phase-in of the use of S-10 uncompensated care data to calculate those payments.
  • The renaming of CMS’s “meaningful use” program to “promoting interoperability,” accompanied by major cuts in the number of measures hospitals must report as part of Medicare’s various quality programs.
  • A greater emphasis on the exchange of health care data among providers.
  • Several changes involving the Medicare area wage index system.
  •  Several requests for information:  one on promoting the exchange of data among hospitals, one on how to foster greater transparency of hospital prices, and one seeking recommendations for regulatory and policy changes to the Medicare wage index.

In the next three days this site will present more details about aspects of the proposed regulation that are of greatest interest to private safety-net hospitals.  The following is a list of what will be covered:

  • Tuesday – inpatient rates, Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) and the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet, and the Medicare area wage index
  • Wednesday – multi-campus hospitals, the Medicare and Meidcaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, and the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program
  • Thursday – the Medicare value-based purchasing program, the hospital inpatient quality reporting program, electronic clinical quality measures, and price transparency

You also can learn more by reviewing the proposed 1883-page rule here or reading the CMS fact sheet here.

NAUH Asks House to Block S-10 Data in Medicare DSH Calculation

In response to a request from the House Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee for suggestions from stakeholders on ways to improve the delivery of Medicare services and eliminate statutory and regulatory obstacles to more effective care delivery, NAUH has asked the committee to require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to continue using the low-income days proxy for 2013 in the calculation of Medicare disproportionate share payments (Medicare DSH) and not use S-10 uncompensated care data in that calculation until the S-10 form’s instructions have been improved and until the quality of the data hospitals report on an improved S-10 can be verified through audits.

After years of considering such an approach, Medicare adopted the use of the S-10 in the calculation of Medicare DSH payments in its final FY 2017 inpatient prospective payment system regulation, which was published earlier this month.

NAUH has long opposed the use of S-10 data for this purpose, maintaining that it is inaccurate, lacks uniformity, is subject to manipulation, and is not verified through auditing.  All private safety-net hospitals qualify for Medicare DSH payments and those payments help ensure access to care for the many low-income residents of the communities these hospitals serve.

See NAUH’s message to the House Ways and Means Committee here.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Changes in Medicare Payments (Part 4 of 5)

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Association of Urban Hospitals has offered extensive comments on why the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet is not an appropriate tool to use when calculating hospital Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) uncompensated care payments.

In support of this view and in response to the publication of CMS’s draft inpatient prospective payment system regulation detailing how it envisions paying acute-care hospitals in FY 2018, NAUH took advantage of the formal stakeholder comment period to offer documentation, including examples, of the shortcomings of the S-10.  In the letter, NAUH also commented on proposed changes in Medicare’s hospital readmission reduction program, hospital inpatient rates, the Medicare area wage index system, and quality reporting and advocated the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care providers.

This week NAUH presents excerpts from this letter.  The schedule for this week is as follows:

  • Tuesday– Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments and the S-10
  • Wednesday – the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program
  • today– Medicare inpatient rates, the area wage index, and quality reporting
  • Friday – the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care organizations

Documentation and Coding Adjustment

Last year CMS reduced inpatient payments an additional 1.5 percent for a documentation and coding adjustment to fulfill the American Tax Relief Act of 2013 (ATRA) requirement that CMS recover $11 billion from federal fiscal years 2014 through 2017.  This came in addition to cuts of 0.8 percentage points in FY 2014, FY 2015, and FY 2016.  Hospitals expected another 0.8 percentage point cut in FY 2017 but CMS reduced the payments 1.5 percentage points because CMS’s Office of the Actuary concluded that an additional 0.7 percentage point reduction was needed to fulfill the ATRA mandate, citing growing decreases in inpatient admissions.

In NAUH’s view, the analysis that led to last year’s larger-than-expected document and coding adjustment failed to account for the increase in Medicare beneficiaries’ utilization of outpatient services while inpatient admissions declined and resulted in a much larger documentation and coding adjustment than circumstances warranted.  For this reason, NAUH urges CMS to return these payments to hospitals, minus adjustments mandated by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 and the 21st Century Cures Act.

Area Wage Index

NAUH opposes CMS’s proposal to reduce the labor-related share of hospital payments that are adjusted by the Medicare area wage index from the current 69.6 percent to 68.3 percent.  Inasmuch as the wage index system already holds harmless from such a change hospitals with wage index adjustments lower than 1.0, we believe reducing the labor-related shared further undervalues the very real differences in hospital-specific costs.  In so doing, in NAUH’s view, such a change would specifically harm hospitals in higher-cost urban areas that already experience some of the highest labor costs in the country.  NAUH opposes reducing the sensitivity of the prospective payment system to the different circumstances of individual hospitals through the introduction of an approach that would foster the development of a reimbursement system that trends toward the mean despite unquestionable differences in hospital costs.

Those differences are a very real and legitimate concern, and for this reason NAUH urges CMS to withdraw its proposal to reduced the labor-related share of wage index adjustments of Medicare payments for FY 2018.

Quality Reporting

In the draft rule, CMS proposes revising the current pain management questions in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to focus on hospitals’ communication with patients about patients’ pain during their hospital stay.  Last year NAUH expressed concern about the pain question in the current survey and urged CMS to consider revising it and we wish to thank CMS for doing so and express our support for this proposed change.

See the full NAUH letter here.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Changes in Medicare Payments (Part 3 of 5)

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Association of Urban Hospitals has offered extensive comments on why the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet is not an appropriate tool to use when calculating hospital Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) uncompensated care payments.

In support of this view and in response to the publication of CMS’s draft inpatient prospective payment system regulation detailing how it envisions paying acute-care hospitals in FY 2018, NAUH took advantage of the formal stakeholder comment period to offer documentation, including examples, of the shortcomings of the S-10.  In the letter, NAUH also commented on proposed changes in Medicare’s hospital readmission reduction program, hospital inpatient rates, the Medicare area wage index system, and quality reporting and advocated the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care providers.

This week NAUH presents excerpts from this letter.  The schedule for this week is as follows:

  • Tuesday– Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments and the S-10
  • today – the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program
  • Thursday – Medicare inpatient rates, the area wage index, and quality reporting
  • Friday – the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care organizations

The Hospital Readmission Reduction Program

NAUH is pleased that CMS proposes adding risk adjustment to the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program by assessing future penalties based on a given hospital’s performance in comparison to that of similar hospitals rather than in comparison to all hospitals, as the program currently does.  NAUH has called for such risk adjustment ever since the program was introduced, maintaining that certain hospitals – in our case, private, non-profit urban safety-net hospitals – face a degree of challenge in serving their patients that most hospitals do not and that judging all hospitals similarly was therefore unfair.

While NAUH supports this change in philosophy for the readmissions reduction program, we would like to know more about how this change would be implemented before commenting specifically on what CMS is proposing.  To do so, we request access to the data CMS proposes employing to determine how many dually eligible patients hospitals serve; an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate the different methodologies CMS has advanced for creating the peer groups to which individual hospitals would be assigned; and the specific formula CMS proposes using to adjust payments to hospitals.  Once NAUH has sufficient information about this data and the proposed methodologies we will be in a position to model the proposal for ourselves, test its projected impact on private, non-profit urban safety-net hospitals and other hospitals, and offer more detailed and specific comments on the proposal.

See the full letter here.