Safety-Net Hospitals Struggle in Medicare Joint Replacement Model

Non-safety-net hospitals are outperforming safety-net hospitals in the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement model introduced in 2016.

According to a new study published in Health Affairs,

…in comparison to non-safety-net hospitals, 42 percent fewer safety-net hospitals qualified for rewards based on their quality and spending performance (33 percent of safety-net hospitals qualified, compared to 57 percent of non-safety-net hospitals), and safety-net hospitals’ rewards per episode were 39 percent smaller ($456 compared to $743). Continuation of this performance trend could place safety-net hospitals at increased risk of penalties in future years.

What might be done to address this disparity?  The study suggests that

Medicare and hospital strategies such as those that reward high-quality care for vulnerable patients could enable safety-net hospitals to compete effectively in CJR.

Learn more in the Health Affairs article Performance of Safety-Net Hospitals in Year 1 of the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model.

 

Government More Effective Than Private Sector at Controlling Health Care Costs

For the past dozen years, Medicare and Medicaid have done a better job of controlling rising health care costs than private insurers.

Since 2016, according to a new report from the Urban Institute, private insurers’ costs per enrolled member have risen an average of 4.4 percent a year.  By contrast, Medicare costs have risen an average of 2.4 percent per enrollee and Medicaid costs have risen just 1.6 percent per enrollee.

The primary driver of Medicare cost increases has been prescription drug spending.  For Medicaid the primary driver has been physician services and administrative costs.  For private insurers, the main reason for increasing costs has been spending for hospital care.

Learn more about the differences in cost containment in these different sectors and the implications of those differences in the Urban Institute report “Slow Growth in Medicare and Medicaid Spending Per Enrollee Has Implications for Policy Debates.”

MedPAC: Overhaul Medicare Quality Programs

Medicare would implement major changes in its hospital quality programs under a proposal approved by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Fierce Healthcare reports that the proposal adopted by MedPAC for recommendation to Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

…would essentially lump together several existing programs that measure quality—the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program and the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program—into the Hospital Value Incentive Program (HVIP). 

It would also eliminate the existing Inpatient Quality Reporting Program.

Under the MedPAC proposal,

Performance across five domains—readmissions, mortality, spending, patient experience and hospital-acquired conditions—would be converted to HVIP “points.” Those points would be used to distribute the pool of funds instead of penalizing hospitals as the current system does. 

MedPAC estimates that hospitals might experience a 3.3 percent net increase in Medicare payments under its proposal; the current, multi-program approach would yield as much as a 2.8 percent increase.

MedPAC will encourage Congress and CMS to act quickly and implement its proposal in 2020.

Private safety-net hospitals have not always felt fairly treated by some of these quality programs, maintaining that their patients face socio-economic obstacles that make them more challenging to serve than the patients most community hospitals serve and that comparisons with most community hospitals – often the basis for quality ratings and either financial penalties or rewards – are inappropriate.

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.

Learn more about the MedPAC hospital quality proposal and other recent MedPAC proposals in the Fierce Healthcare article “MedPAC recommends overhaul to Medicare’s hospital quality programs.”

Feds Urge States to Do More for Dually Eligible

In a formal guidance letter to state Medicaid directors, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has outlined ten ways that states can better serve individuals who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid.

Noting that such dually eligible individuals represent 20 percent of Medicare enrollees but 34 percent of Medicare spending while also constituting 15 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries but 33 percent of Medicaid spending, the letter from CMS administrator Seema Verma to state Medicaid directors explains that

This letter describes ten opportunities – none of which require complex demonstrations or Medicare waivers – to better serve individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, including through new developments in managed care, using Medicare data to inform care coordination and program integrity initiatives, and reducing administrative burden for dually  eligible individuals and the providers who serve them. A number of these opportunities are newly available to states through Medicare rulemaking or other CMS burden reduction efforts. We are happy to engage with you and your staff on one, many, or all of the items described in this letter. The CMS Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office (MMCO) works across CMS and with states to better serve dually eligible individuals, including through efforts to better align the Medicare and Medicaid programs and demonstrations to test new approaches to integrated service delivery and financing.

Those ten ways are:

  • state contracting with dual eligible special needs plans (D-SNPs)
  • default enrollment into a D-SNP
  • passive enrollment to preserve continuity of integrated care
  • integrating care through the Program of All-inclusive Care (PACE)
  • reducing the administrative burden in accessing Medicare data for use in care coordination
  • program integrity opportunities
  • Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 file timing
  • state buy-in file data exchange
  • improving Medicare Part A buy-in
  • opportunities to simplify eligible and enrollment

Private safety-net hospitals serve especially large numbers of dually eligible, Medicare-Medicaid patients and will be interested to see whether CMS’s recommendations translate into action at the state level.

To see the entire letter, including additional information about these ten opportunities, go here.

CBO Targets Health Care in Options for Reducing Deficit

Every year the Congressional Budget Office publishes a menu of options for reducing federal spending and the federal budget deficit.  As in the past, this year’s compendium includes a number of options to reduce federal health care spending and raises federal revenue through health care initiatives.

The cost-cutting options include:

  • establish caps on federal spending for Medicaid
  • limit states’ taxes on health care providers
  • reduce federal Medicaid matching rates
  • change the cost-sharing rules for Medicare and restrict Medigap insurance
  • raise the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67
  • reduce Medicare’s coverage of bad debt
  • consolidate and reduce federal payments for graduate medical education at teaching hospitals
  • use an alternative measure of inflation to index social security and other mandatory programs

Options to raise additional revenue include:

  • increase premiums for Parts B and D of Medicare
  • reduce tax subsidies for employment-based health insurance
  • increase the payroll tax rate for Medicare hospital insurance

Many of these proposals, if implemented, would be damaging for private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about the CBO’s recommendations, how they might be implemented, and their potential implications in the CBO report Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028.

 

MedPAC Mulls Direct Billing for Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants

Medicare would permit nurse practitioners and physician assistants to bill directly for their services under a proposal being considered by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Currently such services are billed as “incident to” physician services, but according to a report in Becker’s Hospital Review,

MedPAC staff told commissioners there are problems with “incident to” billing because it “obscures policymakers’ knowledge of who is providing care for beneficiaries,” “inhibits accurate valuation of fee schedule services,” and “increases Medicare beneficiary spending.”  Staff also said that physician assistants and nurse practitioners increasingly practice outside of primary care.

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.

MedPAC commissioners are expected to vote on the recommendation next month.

Learn more about the billing recommendation in this article in Becker’s Hospital Review.

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 December agenda were:

  • Medicare payments for physician and other health professionals services
  • payments for ambulatory surgical centers
  • payments for hospital inpatient and outpatient care
  • Medicare’s hospital quality incentive program
  • payments for skilled nursing facilities
  • payments for long-term care hospitals
  • payments for inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • the Medicare Advantage program

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.

Medicare Advantage to Address Social Determinants of Health

Beginning next year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will authorize Medicare Advantage plans to pay for some health-related but non-medical benefits for their members – benefits that will help address social determinants of health that affect the health status of many Medicare beneficiaries.

As explained by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a recent event in Salt Lake City,

These interventions can keep seniors out of the hospital, which we are increasingly realizing is not just a cost saver but actually an important way to protect their health, too.  If seniors do end up going to the hospital, making sure they can get out as soon as possible with the appropriate rehab services is crucial to good outcomes and low cost as well. If a senior can be accommodated at home rather than an inpatient rehab facility or a [skilled nursing facility], they should be.

According to Azar, HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will be looking for new ways to address social determinants of health that have an impact on Medicare beneficiaries’ health.

What if we provided more than connections and referrals?  What if we provided solutions for the whole person including addressing housing, nutrition and other social needs all together?  What if we gave organizations who work with us more flexibility so they can pay beneficiaries’ rent if they are in unstable housing or make sure that a diabetic has access to and can afford nutritious food?  If that sounds like an exciting idea, then stay tuned to what CMMI is up to.

During the gathering, Azar made similar comments about Medicaid, suggesting that in the near future, federal Medicaid funds might soon be used for non-health-related benefits as well.

Learn more about Secretary Azar’s plans for addressing social determinants of health in this Fierce Healthcare article.

House Members Protest Site-Neutral Payment Proposal

138 members of the House of Representatives have written to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma to protest CMS’s proposal to extend Medicare outpatient site-neutral payment policies to off-campus, provider-based outpatient departments specifically exempted from such policies by Congress under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

In questioning CMS’s rationale for the proposed policy, the House members wrote that

It is unclear how CMS has deemed all of the OPD [outpatient department] services at the grandfathered off-campus HOPDs [hospital outpatient departments] as cause of an unnecessary increase in volume of OPD services, and we ask you to provide clarity on this when making these payment changes.

The House members also wrote that

The agency has also proposed cutting payment to 40 percent of the current HOPD rate for grandfathered off-campus HOPDs that begin to furnish a new service from a clinical facility not offered prior to November 1, 2015 which could unfairly penalize grandfathered off-campus HOPDs that expand or diversify the critical services they offer to meet the changing needs of their patients.

In a formal response to the proposed regulation, NAUH expressed much the same sentiment, maintaining that the regulation, if adopted, could detract from the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their communities. See that letter here.

Go here to see the House 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 October agenda were:

  • managing prescription opioid use in Medicare Part D
  • opioids and alternatives in hospital settings: payments, incentives, and Medicare data
  • Medicare payment policies for advanced practice registered nurses and physicians
  • Medicare’s role in the supply of primary care physicians
  • Medicare payments for services provided in inpatient psychiatric facilities
  • episode-based payments and outcome measures under a unified payment system for post-acute care
  • Medicare policy issues related to non-urgent and emergency care

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

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.