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CMS Announces New Voluntary Bundled Payment Model that Qualifies as Advanced APM

January 10, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Stakeholders are reacting positively to the launch of a voluntary model that is this administration’s first Advanced APM

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) yesterday announced the launch of a new voluntary bundled payment model called Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Advanced (BPCI Advanced).

The model will qualify as an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (Advanced APM) under MACRA’s Quality Payment Program; under the Advanced APM track in MACRA, providers take on financial risk to earn the Advanced APM incentive payment. “CMS is proud to announce this administration’s first Advanced APM,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “BPCI Advanced builds on the earlier success of bundled payment models and is an important step in the move away from fee-for-service and towards paying for value. Under this model, providers will have an incentive to deliver efficient, high-quality care.”

Indeed, CMS officials said that under this bundled payment model, participants can earn additional payment if all expenditures for a beneficiary’s episode of care are under a spending target that factors in quality. They noted that bundled payments “create incentives for providers and practitioners to work together to coordinate care and engage in continuous improvement to keep spending under a target amount.”

Specifically, BPCI Advanced Participants may receive payments for performance on 32 different clinical episodes, such as major joint replacement of the lower extremity (inpatient) and percutaneous coronary intervention (inpatient or outpatient). The 32 types of clinical episodes add outpatient episodes to the inpatient episodes that were offered in the agency’s Innovation Center’s previous bundled payment model (the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement initiative).

“An episode model such as BPCI Advanced supports healthcare providers who invest in practice innovation and care redesign to improve quality and reduce expenditures,” CMS officials stated in the announcement.

In BPCI Advanced, participants will be expected to redesign care delivery to keep Medicare expenditures within a defined budget while maintaining or improving performance on specific quality measures, according to CMS. Participants bear financial risk, have payments under the model tied to quality performance, and are required to use certified electronic health record (EHR) technology. And by meeting these requirements, the model qualifies as an Advanced APM.

CMS said it designed this model taking into account rigorous evaluation results from previous CMMI (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation) models, industry experience with bundled payment, and stakeholder input from healthcare providers at acute care hospitals, physician group practices, and other providers and suppliers.

Just a short time ago, CMS officially finalized a rule that cancelled mandatory hip fracture and cardiac bundled payment models. Verma has said in the past that she doesn’t think bundled payment models should be mandatory, a sentiment that some industry experts wholeheartedly agree with.

As such, it’s expected that the launch of this model will be received with praise, since it’s voluntary and also since it qualifies as an advanced APM. In a statement from the Charlotte, N.C.-based Premier, Inc.—a BPCI convener and advisor to providers in other bundled payment models—the organization’s vice president of bundled payment services, Mark Hiller, said, “We are also extremely pleased that BPCI Advanced will support participation as an alternative payment model under MACRA’s Quality Payment Program, providing an extra incentive to participate in the program. The model is essential for APMs and qualifying eligible clinicians to earn the Quality Payment Program’s five percent bonus.”

But while this model is currently not mandatory, one industry observer thinks that providers should not see that as a reason to not participate. Darcie Hurteau, senior director of informatics, DataGen, a Rensselaer, N.Y.-based healthcare data analytics and policy firm, opined, “With CMS giving people the added incentive of making this an advanced APM, I would expect that while the program is not currently mandatory, over time it will become increasingly disadvantageous for practices not to participate in bundled payment models. This is the direction the industry is headed in, and practices will need to pay attention if they want to stay competitive.”

Clay Richards, president and CEO of naviHealth, a post-acute care management company based in Brentwood, Tenn., added in an emailed statement to Healthcare Informatics, “Under BPCI Advanced, acute hospitals, health systems, and other providers have the opportunity to improve patient care while laying a foundation for value-based reimbursement. The new model includes a convener role, which allows providers to partner with an organization that shares downside risk and provides clinical support technology and management services. With this news, CMS is encouraging providers to take responsibility for patients throughout a continuum of care by targeting increasing variation within post-acute care.”

Richards also noted, “Redesigning the continuum of acute and post-acute care to be more tailored to patient needs can generate significant savings for Medicare and substantial payments for providers. And if post-acute care utilization is historically high, the opportunities to achieve savings are even greater.”

Meanwhile, Chris Garcia, CEO of Remedy Partners, a Darien, Conn.-based company that helps hospitals and physicians with bundled payment programs and which is the largest awardee convener under the BPCI program, said in an emailed statement to Healthcare Informatics, “[We] are pleased with CMS's announcement of the BPCI Advanced program continuing through 2023. This is another positive step forward for bundled payments being part of Medicare's permanent payment policy, and we expect it will fuel the continued expansion of bundled payment methodology into commercial, Medicaid and self-insured markets. We look forward to our continued partnership with CMS and working with many new provider participants that we anticipate will be joining the program.”

The model performance period for BPCI Advanced starts on October 1, 2018 and runs through December 31, 2023. Like all models tested by CMS, “there will be a formal, independent evaluation to assess the quality of care and changes in spending under the model,” the agency stated.


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Is the Discourse Over the MSSP Program Teetering Towards Potential Conflict?

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The joint statement by nine healthcare associations this week points to potential conflict ahead around the MSSP program

Things appear to be heating up quickly in the interactions between the senior leaders at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the leaders of some of the accountable care organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) for ACOs.

As Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal noted in a just-published report, The National Association of ACOs (NAACOS) and eight other healthcare stakeholder groups have sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), expressing concerns about the federal agency’s proposed changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). In August,” he noted, “CMS proposed sweeping changes to the MSSP, by far the largest federal ACO model, with 561 participants. At the center of the proposed rule, called “Pathways to Success,” is a core belief that ACOs (accountable care organizations) ought to move more quickly into two-sided risk payment models so that Medicare isn’t on the hook for money if the ACO outspends its financial benchmarks.”

Further, as Leventhal noted, “Specifically, CMS is proposing to shorten the glide path for new ACOs to assume financial risk, reducing time in a one-sided risk model from the current six years to two years. This proposal, coupled with CMS’ recommendations to cut potential shared savings in half—from 50 percent to 25 percent for one-sided risk ACOs—will certainly deter new entrants to the MSSP ACO program. So far, the proposed rule has been met with varying degrees of scrutiny. NAACOS, comprised of more than 360 ACOs across the U.S., is one association that has been actively pushing back on the CMS proposal. The group believes that ACOs need, and deserve, more time in one-sided risk models since it takes years to develop the necessary infrastructure to be successful. What’s more, NAACOS is of the belief that one-sided risk ACOs actually save far more money than CMS gives them credit for.”

Appropriately, then, considering their offense at CMS’s proposed changes, “NAACOS and others—including the American Medical Association (AMA), Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), and Premier—said in a press release accompanying the letter to CMS that the proposed Pathways to Success program would create several positive changes and includes a number of improvements the value-based community has previously recommended.”

Nor did their press release statement emerge out of a vacuum; indeed, CMS Administrator Seema Verma has become increasingly vocal about her frustrations with the MSSP program in recent months. As Associate Editor Heather Landi noted in a report, in late August during a webinar sponsored by the Accountable Care Learning Collaborative, Administrator Verma spoke in very firm terms about her insistence that ACOs in the MSSP program move forward with alacrity to take on two-sided risk. “I think many people recognize that it’s time to take that next step and it’s time to evolve the program; it’s been six years,” she said on August 27. “We also understand that there may be providers that are not ready. But, our focus is to work with providers that are serious about making the investments and providing better care for lower cost.” And, she added, “I think the experience that we’re seeing is that there are some providers that don’t take a few years to transition, and have come into the program right away, taking full risk, so we know that this is possible. After six years, there is a lot of experience out there and we can learn from one another as far as best practices.”

Statements like those have been deeply concerning to many ACO leaders—thus Thursday’s joint statement. “The ACO community wants to help CMS work through other issues in the rule which, if finalized as proposed, would have unintended consequences of undermining the broader shift to value-based care,” the leaders wrote yesterday. “Specifically, we are very concerned with shortening the time new ACOs have in a shared savings only model from six to two years and cutting in half the shared savings rates for these ACOs from 50 percent to 25 percent. This is especially concerning because a spring 2018 survey showed that over 70 percent of ACOs facing mandatory risk for 2019 were likely to leave the program as a result of being forced to assume financial risk. When analyzing the recent performance year 2017 MSSP results, it shows that Track 1 ACOs achieved more savings per beneficiary than ACOs in the two-sided MSSP models. We request that CMS modify these proposals for all ACOs in the final rule, to allow more time for ACOs in a shared savings only model and to apply a shared savings rate of at least the current 50 percent.”

As the leaders noted, “The MSSP remains a voluntary program, and it’s essential to have the right balance of risk and reward to continue program growth and success. Program changes that deter new entrants would shut off a pipeline of beginner ACOs that should be encouraged to embark on the journey to value, which is a long-standing bipartisan goal of the Administration and Congress and important aspect of the Quality Payment Program.”

What’s more, the membership of this ad hoc group is in many ways as important as the content of their letter to CMS. In alphabetical order, they are: the Association of American Medical Colleges; American College of Physicians; America’s Essential Hospitals; America’s Health Insurance Plans; American Medical Association; Health Care Transformation Task Force; Medical Group Management Association; NAACOs; and Premier Inc.

What’s more, these groups represent a spectrum of stakeholders around the landscape of ACO evolution, including health insurers (AHIP), physicians in practice (AMA), medical group executives (MGMA), integrated health systems (Premier Inc.), and even medical colleges (AAMC). So their open letter to CMS is one that Administrator Verma and all the senior officials at the agency should consider very carefully.

As I said in a blog written after Verma made her comments in that webinar last month, and referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Administrator Verma, and National Coordinator for Health IT Donald Rucker, M.D., “[I]t seems to me that Azar, Verma, and Rucker, and their colleagues, are in a bit of a challenging place here, because even as the progress has been measurably stronger in the Next Gen ACO program compared with that in the MSSP program, even in Next Gen, it hasn’t been spectacular. Meanwhile, Verma’s attempts to push down harder on the levers of payment and regulation in order to turbocharge ACOs, could very easily backfire, causing more ACOs to leave the MSSP program than to switch to two-sided risk.”

So we find ourselves at an excruciatingly delicate moment now in this “dialogue” between the leaders of ACOs and Administrator Verma. And this thing could “tip” in any direction. I would hope that Administrator Verma and her fellow CMS officials would take into consideration as they plan their next moves, anticipated to involve adding more rigor into the MSSP program. A careful balance will be required in order to avoid alienating perhaps the majority of ACO leaders, while still pushing the program forward. In any case, with regard to this entire subject, as we say in the news business, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

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The CEO of a Nationwide Association of MD Groups Sees the Future—and It’s Not in Fee-For-Service

September 18, 2018
by Mark Hagland
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APG’s Don Crane shares his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing physician groups in the emerging healthcare landscape

The world of U.S. healthcare is undergoing massive change these days; indeed, the entire landscape around the healthcare system is shifting now, with new entrants, some of them disruptors, changing the realities on the ground for the leaders of patient care organizations. Meanwhile, the implications are legion, for physician-led organizations, including large and not-so-large multispecialty physician groups. Those subjects were topics of analysis in two of the Healthcare Informatics Top Ten Tech Trends, which appeared in the third-quarter 2018 issue of Healthcare Informatics.

For both the Trend article on the new disruptors entering the healthcare system, and the Trend article on the challenges and opportunities physician groups in the emerging landscape, Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland interviewed Don Crane, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based America’s Physician Groups (APG), a nationwide association of physician groups involved in risk-based contracting. Crane, whose association represents more than 300 physician groups operating in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, is helping to lead a revolution in the medical group world, facilitating the collaboration around innovation among physician groups across the country.


Don Crane

Don Crane will be delivering a keynote presentation on November 9, during the Health IT Summit in Beverly Hills, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics. He will be speaking on the subject of value-based care and clinical transformation, sharing his perspectives as one of the leaders in the physician group world. Below are excerpts from his interview this summer with Hagland.

Looking at all these new business combinations and alliances—the Aetna-CVS deal, the Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JP Morgan Chase alliance, the inroads into healthcare being made by Microsoft, Google, and others—what do all of these business and technological incursions mean?

To me, they signal a very restive employer world, a restive and dissatisfied employer world, certainly, when you talk about Google and Amazon, and so, too, with the carrier-PBM combination. There, it’s more about the players looking for a new model, implying that there’s a dissatisfaction to the point of abandonment of faith in the existing model. So, has the inefficiency of our current healthcare delivery system now produced pain at such a high level that it’s no longer about academic conversations, but time for a variety of different actions? That’s what it’s telling me, that we’re about to hit a pain point. Healthcare is using up more and more of our GPD, and really is hitting our global competitiveness now. So yes, this is very significant.

With regard to the planned Aetna-CVS merger—should physicians feel unsettled?

I have an upcoming board retreat, where we’ll be speaking to the Walmart-Humana, CVS-Aetna, and Cigna-ExpressScripts arrangements; I don’t think that the architects of these various transactions see them all in the same way. They have slightly different strategies, and are facing different challenges. These are smart-darn people, and it’s different from the sort of minute-clinic concept we’ve seen in the past. That concept didn’t really take off. Someone said there’s a Walgreens or CVS within 3 minutes of every American, or something. But the minute-clinic concept didn’t exactly work. But what’s different about these diagonal mergers? I think some of it lies in the data—you’ll be combining the data of a health plan with a pharmacy with a PBM [pharmacy benefit management company]. And we’re moving into an era of artificial intelligence and machine learning and the ability to stack up algorithms to the nth degree and know things we didn’t know before.

There’s also the factor of the idea of the transformation of primary care. I think they envision a world where you don’t have to call your doctor six weeks in advance, drive through traffic, wait for hours, wait for days to get your results—and that just doesn’t seem cool in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s a model begging for revolution.

And how will all this impact physician groups? The short answer is, I don’t fully know. The longer answer is, we’re actively thinking about it. The one thing I have a massive amount of faith in is that when it comes to professional care by doctors, nurses, etc., the Pentium chip is organized physician groups; it’s not Dr. Marcus Welby all alone; nor is it health plans that sit on high in penthouse buildings; nor is it hospitals. It’s aggregations of doctors supported by data and analytics, and supported by a constellation of people—psychologists, social workers, even bus drivers, in terms of transportation. And there, you get quality, and you marry within an organization the desire to improve quality and the health of individuals and the population, and at the same time, be stewards of resources. And that’s important, because healthcare’s single biggest problem is unaffordability. So we need stewardship of resources married to expertise in care delivery. I think the new models to come will float to the top.

And, in terms of the disruptors, they envision a world where you don’t have to call your doctor six weeks in advance, drive through traffic, wait for hours, wait for days to get your results—and that just doesn’t seem cool in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s a model begging for revolution.

With regard to the pace of physician groups moving into risk, is it about at the level you’d expect?

As best as I can tell, the pace is going moderately well. Has it accelerated? No. Has it slowed? Probably not. It doesn’t feel like there’s a white-hot fire underneath it at the moment. There is a generalized belief that we need that movement to occur and succeed. At the same time, there are entrenched interests.

Our efforts rise and fall based on what’s going on around the country. And we continue to get new members out of interest in this, but they’re not pounding the doors down yet. They’re reading the signals from the government and commercial payers carefully, and they’re content to sit in the status quo and make a pretty good living, and don’t want to incur enormous cost and effort unless they have to. So the level of push is not as hard as we’d like. But some changes coming out of various rules sets coming out of a very bold and laudable administration, as far as I’m concerned.

When it comes to managing two-sided risk, everyone has spoken of the criticality of data. What’s being learned in that area?

Upside risk makes sense for a while; it’s baby steps. But it’s weak tea in terms of driving real change. If you get lucky with the right benchmarks, you can do well. But it doesn’t induce real structural change. But when an organization faces downside risk, also known as bankruptcy—that really forces change. When you take that higher risk, you’ve got to have the data. You’ve got to risk-stratify your population, and treble down on the resources you’re using on the patients at highest risk. All of a sudden, you move into the big leagues.

Are physician groups beginning to use artificial intelligence and machine learning, in earnest?

The answer is yes. I’m surveying my board next week. But the pioneers are starting to use AI and machine learning, yes.

Do you know yet what they’re learning in terms of process?

Well, of course they’re learning better what the ailments are in a population, etc. They’re just able to do a better job of diagnosis and then care management care planning—being able to treat people more intelligently than ever before.

What percentage of your organizations have unlocked the key around multidisciplinary care teams?

That percentage is very high. Some started a couple of decades ago with this. This is not rocket science, it’s fundamental blocking and tackling. So within my organization, you’ll see a high percentage of organizations making good use of multidisciplinary care teams. Outside my organization, not so much. It’s no secret that you should be using mid-levels to support physicians; but you kind of need the payment model to make it work. Otherwise, you still have doctors working per click, like hamsters on a wheel. As you get into risk-based capitation, that’s where the model changes, and voila—all of a sudden, you have big panels, risk management, and multidisciplinary care teams. You almost can’t separate the organizational model from the payment model.

In terms of physician groups working with social determinants of health data, what are you hearing?

Well, we’re in the early stages of physicians and physician groups moving into working with social determinants of health data. If you talk to a doctor who is still in fee-for-service about the social determinants of health, he’ll say, nice idea, but are you kidding? I didn’t go into healthcare to be a social worker! If you talk to APG members, you’ll see that they totally understand it. You so often need to get into the home, and into transportation, and nutritional support. If a patient can’t get to the doctor’s office, and isn’t eating and is living in a high-crime area, no amount of good diagnosis and prescription will produce a good outcome. In Medicare Advantage, given the latest rate note and the bipartisan Balanced Budget Act, Medicare is basically beginning to cover social determinants of health stuff; that’s in a nascent stage, but people are gearing up for it. I think I saw that Humana and Ascension Health had created a new venture around social determinants.

Meanwhile, we’ve entered into a partnership with Partners in Care, a foundation headquartered in Los Angeles, and they’re available for hire to do home visits and other similar sorts of social work items. And my members are hiring them to do that kind of outreach into patient’s homes. It’s really helpful with the frail elderly and such. So seeing where the puck is headed there, we entered into a partnership with Partners in Care. And that’s a whole new frontier. Now for physicians to be responsible for home visits, well, that’s new. So there’s a transformation underway there as well.

What do you see in the next couple of years around that?

I think it’s just another data set. And if you’re going to start to do home visits to the frail elderly, you’ll need their addresses, of course. And when you do your chops and cuts and sorts, you’ll need to be looking not only at their a1c, but their neighborhood, and their nutritional status, etc., and you’ll now have additional data to help you guide your care plan. It might involve home visits, or Lyft or Uber; so there needs to be data to support that.

How will the data analytics component evolve in the next few years for the leaders of physician groups?

Well, it starts with a recognition of the need for data. Those physicians just wondering what to do about MIPS, etc. They’ll realize they’re utterly unequipped to set up a data analytics shop themselves, so you’ll see movement into groups. And the next step is to get to the facility to do it, and that means joining a group or an IPA. That’s the dynamic we’re going to see. And then we’ll start seeing better results.

And, how do you see the future more broadly?

There’s no future around fee for service; it’s eroding out from under doctors. You look at the Medicare fee schedule and increases slated for the future. What are they? The anticipated increases to physician payment under Medicare are going to be 0.5 percent, 0.25 percent, from here out to as far as the eye can see, they’ll be nearly flat; and the increases in costs of running practices will be increasing 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 percent. So you’re quickly on the way to the poorhouse if you’re trying to stay in a fee-for-service world. So how will we make a living? To make a living doing what you want to do, you’re going to need to find a different way to make a profit under flat revenue. How do you do that? You keep the population healthier. You stare into the data and figure out who will get sick next, by using predictive analytics.

 


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On Capitol Hill, Healthcare Leaders Raise Concerns with CMS’ Proposed ACO Rule

September 17, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Healthcare leaders also testified about the need for Stark Law modernization
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A panel of healthcare organization leaders voiced concerns about moving Medicare accountable care organizations (ACOs) to two-sided risk too quickly, as proposed in a recent federal draft rule, and highlighted the need for Stark Law reform during a U.S. House of Representatives Health subcommittee hearing last week.

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on Health held a hearing last Thursday examining the barriers to expanding value-based care in Medicare, and panelists used the opportunity to voice concerns to lawmakers about a number of polices and laws that they believe are impeding progress in the transition to value-based care and payment models.

Subcommittee chairman Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas) said the purpose of the hearing was to focus on the evolving transition to value-based care as well as new ways of assuming risk, and the role technology can play in these efforts. In his opening statement, Burgess recognized that value-based care models have been effective at improving quality and lowering costs. “These models are the future of heath care, and it is important that Congress hear from the industry about how the implementation of such models work on the ground or, to the extent it’s not working, it’s important that we hear that as well,” he said.

Many of the panelists shared their opinions on a proposed rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that proposes a new direction for ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings program (MSSP), with the goal to push these organizations into two-sided risk models.

The MSSP is the largest value-based payment model in the U.S., growing to 561 ACOs with more than 350,000 providers caring for 10.5 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2018. Under current MSSP rules, new ACOs are eligible to share savings with Medicare for up to six years if they meet quality and spending goals but are not at financial risk for any losses. In the proposed rule, issued Aug. 9, CMS is proposing to shorten that glide path for new ACOs to assume financial risk, reducing time in a one-sided risk model from the current six years to two years. CMS also recommends reducing potential shared savings in half—from 50 percent to 25 percent for one-sided risk ACOs. As such, The proposed rule has so far been met with varying degrees of scrutiny.

During his testimony, Nishant Anand, M.D., chief medical officer for population health services and chief transformation officer for Adventist Health System, and chairman of the Adventist Health System ACO, said he was concerned that policies contained in CMS’ proposed redesign of the MSSP, if finalized, would discourage providers from participating in value-based care.

Anand, who is based at Florida Hospital Orlando and has led value transformations at other health systems, noted that Adventist has ACO arrangements in Kansas, North Carolina and Florida, where the system has 55,000 beneficiaries in its MSSP ACO.

“The existing financial benchmarks, especially in lower cost markets, make it financially prohibitive to transition to a two-sided risk model and will deter providers from participating in the program. If the benchmarks do not provide room for improvement, allowing providers to transition towards value-based care delivery over time, providers will not participate. We must find ways to adjust for the regional variations across the country,” he said.

Continuing, he said, “Second, benchmarks need to be accurately risk adjusted to reflect the underlying health status of the ACO’s population.” And, with regard to CMS’ proposal to limit shared savings payments to 25 percent, he said: “A lower shared savings rate means we will have less to reinvest into population management and care coordination. Limiting the shared saving payments to 25 percent will create an unsustainable business model.”

Anand urged Congressional leaders to consider a “deeper dive into value-based care reforms that will accelerate the journey. “We’re ready to go faster but need additional help with payment reform to focus on holistic care as well as regulatory reform. We need to help ACOs achieve critical mass in order to hit the tipping point where value-based care is what we deliver,” he said.

Michael Robertson, M.D., chief medical officer of Covenant Health Partners and Covenant ACO in Lubbock, Texas, also voiced similar concerns. Robertson, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations (NAACOS), said Covenant Health Partners has operated a clinically integrated network for the past 11 years, through which it has instituted robust health information technology, contracts for hospital services, and quality metrics for measures like hospital-acquired infections.

“We then branched out to commercial contracts and, in 2014, made the quantum leap to a three-year Track 1 MSSP agreement. If we had not already had a clinically integrated network in place, where we had already done much of the work to get ready for MSSP participation, it is unlikely that we would have made the decision to participate in the MSSP. It was also important for us that we didn’t have to be concerned about taking downside risk, since we were in a shared savings-only model,” he said.

There has been much debate and contention between CMS and healthcare industry stakeholders on just how much money one-sided risk ACOs are saving Medicare. An independent evaluation by NAACOs published last week found MSSP ACOs generated gross savings of $1.84 billion for Medicare between 2013 and 2015, nearly double the $954 million estimated by CMS. Last month, CMS data showed ACOs generated $314 million in net savings to Medicare in 2017 after accounting for payments earned by ACOs for hitting spending and quality targets.

Moving to value-based care is a massive undertaking that requires changing the behavior of multiple providers, Robertson testified. “Participation in the MSSP has allowed us to reinvest in technology and infrastructure to manage our patient population. In our first year of participation in the MSSP, we saved Medicare $5 million and our share was $2.5 million,” Robertson said. The organization used the bulk of those funds to reinvest in its IT infrastructure and to develop physician dashboard. “All of these things take time and money; pushing too quickly to achieve results and take on risk, without giving ample time for providers to develop the necessary infrastructure, will mean people don’t participate,” Robertson said.

CMS’ recently proposed MSSP ACO rule would improve the existing MSSP in a number of ways, he said, such as implementing ACO-specific payment rule waivers and beneficiary incentives. “Some of these improvements lend stability to the program, which is very positive,” he said.

“I do have significant concerns about the speed in which the agency is asking people to move to risk as well as the proposal to cut shared savings from 50 to 25 percent. Two years is not enough time to take on risk; it took us 11 years and we’re still hard at it,” Robertson testified. “The reduced shared savings amount is going to keep providers out of this program because it does not allow them to keep enough savings to reinvest in the IT infrastructure and the care coordination that is needed to make these programs work. The limitation of the risk score adjustment of +/- 3 percent over the five-year contractual period will also be harmful as it penalizes physicians financially for taking care of patients who are sicker.”

Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statue Reforms

During the hearing, panelists also shared their perspectives on how legal barriers are preventing healthcare providers from accelerating toward value-based care.

Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, comprised of industry leaders from all sectors of the U.S. healthcare system, testified that the Stark Physician Self-Referral Law and the Anti-Kickback Statute were created to prevent overutilization and inappropriate influence in a fee-for-service environment in which healthcare sectors and entities operated in their own individual silos.

“Today, however, in order to make the transformation to value-based care, we need greater integration of services, improved coordination of care with cross-sector collaborations, and payment that is linked to outcomes rather than volume. Adopting these new delivery and payment models becomes difficult when faced with outdated fraud and abuse laws and potential penalties of considerable severity,” Grealy said.

She said, for example, that hospitals can run afoul of current law by offering physicians performance-based compensation to engage in coordinated care and meet high quality metrics.

Adventist’s Anand also highlighted the need for Stark Law modernization, noting that it is an “impediment” to value-based care. “The Stark Law is highly complex and has created a minefield for the health care industry due to its huge financial penalty risks and its unclear provisions. These risks result in health care providers avoiding value-based arrangements,” he said. While Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to issue regulatory waivers for models of care, such as the MSSP program, these waivers are issued program-by-program and are not permanent, he said.

Michael Weinstein, M.D., a practicing gastroenterologist and president of Capital Digestive Care, a physician practice with 65 GI doctors in the Washington, D.C. area, also urged policymakers to modernize the Stark Law, noting that fraud and abuse laws are an impediment to develop and implement innovative alternative payment models (APMs). “Physician practices are facing increasing challenges competing with mega-hospital systems, in part, because antiquated Medicare law and regulations generally favor hospital systems,” Weinstein testified.

CMS issued a request for information (RFI) this summer for public input on how to address any undue regulatory impact and burden of the Stark Law. HHS also is considering making changes to the anti-kickback statute as the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is looking for stakeholder feedback, via an RFI issued August 27.

Morgan Reed, president of ACT | The App Association and executive director of the Connected Health Initiative, told the Health subcommittee members that Medicare regulations and payment policies present serious challenges to the incorporation of technology-driven tools that can make healthcare more accessible and user-friendly. He specifically urged policymakers to take a number of steps, including passing the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) to Health Act of 2017 and filing down regulations such as features of the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law. He also urged policymakers to enhance interoperability and access to data through better guidance from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and finalizing the “data blocking” rules.

In her testimony, Grealy also noted that the expanded use of telemedicine is essential in more efficient utilization of healthcare resources and expanding the reach of health providers. “We urge Congress and the administration to further address Medicare’s restrictions on reimbursement for telemedicine services. There is also considerable value to be found in making digital health applications more accessible for beneficiaries,” she said.


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