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 Site-Neutral Outpatient Payment Proposal Would Have Disproportionate Impact

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposal to make more Medicare outpatient payments on a site-neutral basis would significantly cut Medicare’s overall outpatient spending but most of that cut would be borne by just a few hospitals.

A report prepared for the Integrated Health Care Coalition concluded that

…CMS’ Off-Campus Site-Neutral Proposal in the FY 2019 CMS OPPS [note:  outpatient prospective payment system] NPRM [note:  notice of proposed rulemaking] will disproportionate affect about six percent of 3,333 hospitals that participate in the program.  200 hospitals will shoulder 73 percent of the proposed payment reductions….For the top 200, the average reduction will be 5.5 percent.  For the remaining hospitals, the reduction will be 0.5 percent.

Last month NAUH conveyed its strong opposition to this proposal in a formal comment letter to CMS.

Learn more about the CMS proposal and its potential implications in this story in Becker’s Hospital Review or go here to see the complete analysis.

New Reg Pushes Medicare Toward Site-Neutral Outpatient Payments

Medicare would make more payments for outpatient services on a site-neutral basis under a newly proposed regulation just released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The 2019 Medicare outpatient prospective payment system regulation, published in proposal form, calls for:

  • paying physician fee schedule rates rather than hospital outpatient rates at excepted off-campus provider-based departments;
  • slashing payments for office visits;
  • extending this year’s 340B prescription drug discount payments, already cut nearly 30 percent this year, to additional providers; and
  • raising ambulatory surgical center rates and expanding the list of procedures that can be performed in such facilities so they can compete with hospitals for outpatient services.

The proposed regulation also calls for reducing quality reporting requirements and giving providers financial incentives to prescribe non-opioid pain medicine for surgery patients.

The regulation, which would affect provider payments beginning on January 1, 2019, was published in proposed form and will be finalized later in the year.  Stakeholders have until September 24 to submit comments to CMS.  For further information about what CMS has proposed, see this CMS fact sheet outlining the proposed regulation and the 761-page proposed regulation itself.

MedPAC Meets

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. last week.

Among the issues on the agenda of the independent agency that advises Congress on Medicare payment issues were:

  • payment adequacy for physicians and other health professional services
  • An alternative to the merit-based incentive payment system (MIPS)
  • payment adequacy for hospital inpatient and outpatient services
  • payment adequacy for ambulatory surgical center services
  • the status of the Medicare Advantage program

Find links to issue briefs on these subjects and the presentations offered at the meeting by going here, to the MedPAC web site.

MedPAC Still Unhappy With Doc Pay

Despite the recent regulation implemented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to prevent hospitals from continuing to acquire physician practices so they can receive higher outpatient payments than those physicians receive in private practice, members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission appear to think that more needs to be done to equalize physician payments regardless of where they provide outpatient services.

Stock PhotoOr so MedPAC commissioners discussed during their public meeting in Washington, D.C. last week.

One commissioner observed that physicians appear to become less productive when their practice is acquired by a hospital. Others noted the added costs to Medicare when patients are treated at a hospital-based outpatient facility rather than a private physician’s office. In general, MedPAC members seemed “unimpressed” that CMS’s recent regulation alone will be enough to address the problem and that a better approach would be to reduce or eliminate the pay differentials between the two types of providers. MedPAC staff pointed to the $1.6 billion Medicare spent in 2015 on “evaluation and management “payments only to practices owned by hospitals.

Learn more about what MedPAC’s commissioners think about this issue and what they might do to try to address in this CQ Roll Call article presented by the Commonwealth Fund.

NAUH Urges Congress to Assist With Medicare Outpatient Regulation

Last year Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which mandated site-neutral Medicare outpatient payments. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed a new regulation implementing this policy that NAUH believes will detract from the ability of private safety-net hospitals to bring much-needed outpatient care to their communities. NAUH submitted extensive comments to CMS about this proposed regulation; see them here.

NAUH LogoNAUH especially objects to:

  • limits on the ability of hospitals with existing hospital-based outpatient departments to rebuild or relocate those facilities without losing their hospital-based status;
  • limits on hospitals with existing hospital-based outpatient departments expanding those departments and offering additional services in them without losing their hospital-based status;
  • a prohibition against hospitals purchasing a hospital-based outpatient department from another hospital and retaining that hospital-based status for the acquired facility; and
  • an overly rigid definition of what constitutes an “on-campus” department.

Now, NAUH is asking members of Congress to sign onto a letter to CMS urging the agency to revise aspects of that regulation that pose potential barriers to ensuring access to these services in the low-income communities private safety-net hospitals serve. See NAUH’s message to Congress here.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Medicare Site-Neutral Outpatient Payment Changes

NAUH LogoThe National Association of Urban Hospitals has submitted extensive comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on the agency’s proposal to implement site-neutral payment policies for Medicare-covered outpatient services.

In its comments, NAUH raises objections to:

  • how the proposed rule addresses the relocation of existing hospital-based outpatient departments;
  • how it addresses the expansion of services at existing departments;
  • how it proposes addressing the sale of existing departments; and
  • how it could affect such departments’ future eligibility in the section 340B prescription drug discount program.

Last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act called for Medicare to pay providers for outpatient services on a site-neutral basis.  The proposed rule constitutes CMS’s response to that law.

To see NAUH’s entire comment letter, go here.

CMS Fills in the Blanks on Site-Neutral Payments

When Congress passed a budget bill last fall calling for the introduction of site-neutral payments for Medicare-covered outpatient services, hospitals wondered how this might affect their current provider-based outpatient facilities and their plans for future facilities or acquisitions.

Now they have some answers.

cmsLast week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services put regulatory flesh on the bones outlined by Congress in a 764-page proposed regulation that addresses what hospital-based outpatient facilities and services will be covered by the site-neutral payment rule and which will not.

Interested parties have until September 6 to submit formal comments to CMS about the proposed regulation; NAUH currently plans to do so.

Learn more about the proposed guidelines, which are subject to stakeholder review and comment, in this CMS fact sheet and the proposed regulation itself.

CMS Proposes FY 2017 Outpatient Payments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has revealed how it proposes paying hospitals for Medicare-covered outpatient services in 2017.

Among other matters, the 764-page proposed regulation addresses:

  • proposed rate increases for outpatient and ambulatory surgery center services;
  • new site-neutral outpatient payment policies;
  • changes in the value-based purchasing program;
  • changes in hospital outpatient quality reporting requirements;
  • electronic health record policies; and
  • changes in ambulatory surgical center quality reporting requirements.

law booksNAUH members have received a detailed memo describing the proposed policies.  Representatives of other private safety-net hospitals may request a copy of that memo by clicking on the “contact us” link at the top of this screen.

Interested parties have until September 6 to submit written comments to CMS. The final rule will be published later this year and take effect on January 1, 2017. To learn more about what CMS has proposed for Medicare outpatient payments go here to see a CMS fact sheet and here to see the proposed regulation itself.



GAO Calls for Look at Medicare Outpatient Payments

Citing the growing consolidation of hospitals and physician practices and the higher rates Medicare pays for care delivered in hospital outpatient departments, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress

…consider directing the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to equalize payment rates between settings for E/M [evaluation and management] office visits…

gaoThe recommendation comes after a GAO study that documented the increase in “vertical consolidation” between hospitals and physician practices in recent years and the increased costs for outpatient services this leads to for the Medicare program. The GAO report notes that “Such excess payments are inconsistent with Medicare’s role as an efficient purchaser of health care services.” It also notes that Medicare lacks the statutory authority to make such changes on its own.

For a closer look at this issue and why it is commanding the attention of the GAO and others, go here to see the GAO report Increasing Hospital-Physician Consolidation Highlights Need for Payment Reform.