CMS Outlines Improvements in RAC Audit Processes

In the face of complaints from hospitals about backlogs, time-consuming procedures, and lengthy appeals processes involving Medicare Recovery Audit Contractor audits, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently outlined changes it has implemented in the RAC audit process to address these and other concerns.  They are (in CMS’s own words):

Better Oversight of RACs

  • We are holding RACs accountable for performance by requiring them to maintain a 95% accuracy score. RACs that fail to maintain this rate will receive a progressive reduction in the number of claims they are allowed to review.
  • We also require RACs to maintain an overturn rate of less than 10%. Failure to maintain such a rate, will also result in a progressive reduction in the number of claims the RAC can review.
  • RACs will not receive a contingency fee until after the second level of appeal is exhausted. Previously, RACs were paid immediately upon denial and recoupment of the claim. This delay in payment helps assure providers that the RAC’s decision was correct before they are paid.

 

Reducing Provider Burden and Appeals

  • We are making RAC audits more fair to providers. Previously, RACs could select a certain type of claim to audit. Now, they must audit proportionately to the types of claims a provider submits.
  • We changed how we identify whom to audit. Instead of treating all providers the same, we conduct fewer audits for providers with low claims denial rates.
    We gave providers more time to submit additional documentation before needing to repay a claim. This 30-day discussion period, after an improper payment is identified, means that providers do not have to choose between initiating a discussion and filing an appeal. CMS expects this will continue to reduce the number of appeals.

 

Increasing Program Transparency

  • We are regularly seeking public comment on newly proposed RAC areas for review, before the reviews begin. This allows providers to voice concerns regarding potentially unclear policies that will be part of the review. Posting these topics also allows providers to better prepare for RAC reviews before they begin.
  • We required RACs to enhance their provider portals to make it easier to understand the status of claims.

Learn more in this CMS news release.

Safety-Net Hospitals, Others Benefit From Changes in Medicare Readmissions Program

Safety-net hospitals are among the leading beneficiaries of changes implemented this year in Medicare’s  hospital readmissions reduction program.

According to a new study, safety-net, academic, and rural hospitals have enjoyed improved performance under the program since Medicare began organizing hospitals into peer groups based on the proportion of low-income patients they serve rather than simply comparing individual hospital performance to that of all other hospitals.

While the current fiscal year is still under way, it appears that safety-net hospitals will enjoy a collective decline of $22 million in Medicare readmissions penalties while 44.1 percent of teaching hospitals and 43.7 percent of rural hospitals will face smaller penalties than last year.

NASH was one of the leading and most outspoken proponents of leveling the playing field in the readmissions reduction program, encouraging policy-makers to reform the program so it would compare hospital readmission rates among similar hospitals instead of to those of all hospitals.  NASH’s multi-year effort proved successful and private safety-net hospitals are now benefiting from that success.

Learn more about the readmissions reduction program and how changes in that program have significantly altered its outcomes in the JAMA Internal Medicine study “Association of Stratification by Dual Enrollment Status With Financial Penalties in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.”

CMS Posts Proposed FY 2020 Inpatient Regulation

Medicare would change its wage index system, raise inpatient fees, increase funding for Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicare DSH), enhance payments for new technologies, and make minor modifications in its hospital readmissions reduction, value-based purchasing, and hospital-acquired condition program if a proposed regulation published this week is ultimately adopted.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has published its proposed FY 2020 Medicare inpatient prospective payment system regulation:  its plan for paying acute-care hospitals for Medicare-covered inpatient services in FY 2020.  The 1800-page regulation calls for major changes in Medicare’s wage index system – changes CMS says would “…address the disparities between high and low wage index hospitals…”  It would do so by increasing the wage indexes of many rural hospitals, regardless of their actual wage costs, and pay for those increases by reducing the wage indexes of high-index hospitals, again regardless of their actual wage costs.

The proposed regulation also would raise inpatient payments to hospitals 3.2 percent in the coming year.  In addition, it would add $216 million to its pool of money for Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments – an increase necessitated by this year’s increase in the number of uninsured Americans – while modifying the methodology for calculating those payments.

Learn more about what CMS proposes for Medicare inpatient payments in the coming year by reviewing the proposed regulation itself or reading the fact sheet CMS published to outline the regulation’s highlights.

Stakeholder comments are invited and due to CMS by June 24; NASH expects to take advantage of this opportunity to convey its concerns about selected aspects of the proposed regulation.

Medicare Advantage Permitted to Address Non-medical Needs

Starting in 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will be permitted to provide non-medical benefits to their chronically ill members.

As described in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ “final call letter’ for 2020,

MA [Medicare Advantage] plans are not prohibited from offering an item or service that can be expected to improve or maintain the health or overall function of an enrollee only while the enrollee is using it.  In other words, the statute does not require that the maintenance or improvement expected from an SSBCI [special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill] result in a permanent change in an enrollee’s condition.  Items and services may include, but are not limited to:  meals furnished to the enrollee beyond a limited basis, transportation for non-medical needs, pest control, air quality equipment and services, and benefits to address social needs, so long as such items and services have a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function of an individual as it relates to their chronic condition or illness.

The CMS final call letter offers permission to Medicare Advantage plans to offer such services; it does not require them to do so.

Such a policy change could be highly beneficial to many of the low-income patients served by private safety-net hospitals, which have long sought help with addressing the social determinants of health that often bring patients to them but limit their ability to recover from their illnesses and injuries.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “New Medicare Advantage Benefits Offer Social Services to People with Chronic Illness” and see CMS’s “Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter.”

 

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

The issues on MedPAC’s April agenda were:

  • Expanding the use of value-based payment in Medicare
  • Medicare Shared Savings Program performance
  • Redesigning the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program
  • Increasing the accuracy and completeness of Medicare Advantage encounter data
  • Evaluating patient functional assessment data reported by post-acute-care providers
  • Options for slowing the growth of Medicare fee-for-service spending for emergency department services
  • Options to increase the affordability of specialty drugs and biologics in Medicare Part D
  • Improving payment for low-volume and isolated outpatient dialysis facilities

Many of these issues are important to private safety-net hospitals.

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  While its recommendations are not binding on either Congress or the administration, MedPAC is highly influential in governing circles and its recommendations often find their way into legislation, regulations, and new public policy.

Go here for links to the policy briefs and presentations that supported MedPAC’s discussion of these issues.

 

More Potential Budget Obstacles for Private Safety-Net Hospitals

Part two of the Trump administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget brought more potential bad news for private safety-net hospitals.

 

Last week’s “lean budget” released by the White House included a number of challenges for private safety-net hospitals and this week’s release, intended to fill in some of the blanks that last week’s document left, brought more of the same.

Proposed Medicare challenges include:

  • a call for establishing a new process for calculating Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) uncompensated care payments
  • slashing Medicare bad debt reimbursement from 65 percent to 25 percent
  • continued movement toward site-neutral payments for outpatient services provided at hospital outpatient facilities

Newly proposed Medicaid challenges include:

  • extending Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) cuts beyond the currently planned six years
  • redesigning the formula for allocating Medicaid DSH funds to the states
  • authorizing states to verify beneficiaries’ Medicaid eligibility more than once a year
  • permitting states to apply means tests to Medicaid eligibility

The latest FY 2020 budget proposal also calls for:

  • consolidating Medicare, Medicaid, and children’s hospital medical education payments into single new capped medical education grant program
  • reduced 340B prescription drug discount program payments for some hospitals
  • reducing the grace period for payment of premiums for health insurance purchased on an insurance exchange
  • income-based increases in premiums for low-cost insurance purchased on those exchanges

All of these changes, if implemented, would pose problems for NASH members and most private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more from this week’s White House budget document.

MedPAC Offers Recommendations on FY 2020 Rates, More

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission released its annual report to Congress.  Included in this report are MedPAC’s Medicare rate recommendations for the coming year.  They are:

  • hospital inpatient rates – a two percent increase
  • hospital outpatient rates – a two percent increase
  • physician and other health professional services rates – no update
  • skilled nursing facilities – no 2020 increase
  • home health agencies – a five percent rate reduction
  • inpatient rehabilitation facilities – a five percent rate reduction
  • long-term-care hospital services – a two percent increase
  • hospice services – a two percent rate reduction

MedPAC also recommended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services replace its current array of hospital quality programs with a new, streamlined “hospital value incentive program,” or HVIP, that would replace the Hospital Inpatient Quality Program, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program, and the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program.

MedPAC’s recommendations are binding on neither the administration nor Congress but its views are highly respected and often find their way into new laws, new policies, and new programs.

Learn more about MedPAC’s annual recommendations to Congress in the full MedPAC report or the MedPAC fact sheet that accompanies the recommendations’ release.

Trump Budget Brings Bad News for Private Safety-Net Hospitals

The FY 2020 federal budget proposed by the Trump administration this week would bring pain for private safety-net hospitals if adopted.

Highlights of the proposed spending plan include:

  • More than $135 billion in cuts in Medicare uncompensated care payments (Medicare DSH) and Medicare bad debt reimbursement over the next 10 years.
  • Continued extension of Medicare site-neutral payment outpatient policies.
  • $48 billion in cuts in graduate medical education spending over the next 10 years.
  • $26 billion in new Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) cuts.
  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and all funding to pay for that expansion.
  • Support for legislation to introduce Medicaid block grants and limits on spending per recipient.
  • New restrictions on the 340B program.

Responsibility for adopting a budget rests with Congress, not the president, and this proposed budget is considered unlikely to gain much support in Congress.

As appropriate, NASH will engage in advocacy in support of the needs of the nation’s private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about the administration’s proposed budget from numerous media reports or by going directly to the source:  fact sheets the White House has prepared offering budget highlights and the budget document itself.

 

Stark Changes Coming to Facilitate Value Care?

At a Washington, D.C. conference, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced that changes coming in Stark law requirements will enable Medicare to make better use of value-based purchasing in its reimbursement system.

In addition to addressing cybersecurity and electronic health record system issues, changes in the anti-self-referral law will seek to facilitate better coordination of care for Medicare patients.  Verma explained the underlying rationale for the anticipated changes, noting that

…in a system where we’re transitioning and trying to pay for value, where the provider is ideally taking on some risk for outcomes and cost overruns, we don’t have nearly as much of a need to interfere with who’s getting paid for what service.

Learn more from the Fierce Healthcare article “Verma promises hospital industry ‘significant’ Stark Law changes later this year.”

800 Hospitals Face Medicare Penalties

800 hospitals will see their Medicare payments reduced one percent this year because they are among the 25 percent of hospitals in the U.S. with the highest rate of hospital-acquired conditions.

Among the 800 hospitals are 110 that are being penalized for the fifth year in a row.

Medicare’s hospital-acquired condition reduction program tracks a variety of medical problems, including infections, blood clots, sepsis, hip fractures, bedsores, and others.  Every year, the 25 percent of eligible providers – the program excludes significant numbers of hospitals – are penalized even if their performance for hospital-acquired conditions is superior to the previous year.

Critics of the program say it creates unachievable goals and  penalizes hospitals that are doing an excellent job of reducing hospital-acquired conditions and that there is virtually no statistical difference in performance between some hospitals that are and some hospitals that are not penalized.  Program proponents maintain that all hospitals can and should do an even better job than they already are of reducing their patients’ hospital-acquired conditions.

NASH has long been concerned about the degree to which private safety-net hospitals are at a disadvantage in such programs because of the disproportionately large numbers of low-income patients they serve who pose special health and socio-economic challenges when hospitalized.

Learn more about Medicare’s hospital-acquired conditions reduction program, the penalties some hospitals face in the coming year, and the arguments for and against the program in the Kaiser Health News article “Medicare Trims Payments To 800 Hospitals, Citing Patient Safety Incidents.”