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Getting Ready for MACRA: At World Health Care Congress, an Insightful Look into What Physicians Need to do Next

May 2, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Contemplating MIPS vs. advanced APMs is not what Medicare docs need to be thinking about, experts say
On the first day of the World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C., two physician leaders reflected on their organizations' push into alternative payment models while expert panelists gave advice to those who are struggling with MACRA (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act) readiness. 
 
Angelo Sinopoli, M.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer, strategic coordinating organization at the South Carolina-based Greenville Health System, and Adam Myers, M.D., chief medical officer of Texas Health Physicians' Group, were joined on the panel with Kavita Patel, M.D., nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The three experts delved into the critical elements physicians around the country need to consider as they get ready for MACRA, a law with a Quality Payment Program that kicked off in January with the goal to reward participating Medicare doctors for the quality outcomes they demonstrate. 
 
While many surveys over the months have revealed that many U.S. clinicians are not at all ready for MACRA and its two payment tracks—MIPS (Merit-Based Incentive Payment System) and advanced alternative payment models (APMs)—Myers and Sinopoli are conversely in organizations that have plunged into risk-based care years ago. 
 
At the integrated Greenville Health System, Sinopoli noted how physicians do participate in at-risk Medicaid contracts with downside risk, and have had some success there. They are also part of a federal accountable care organization (ACO) program, the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Track 1, in which there are 60,000 Medicare beneficiaries in that network, with $17.5 million of shared savings gained in the past year, Sinopoli said, adding that the health system also participates in some BPCI (Bundled Payments for Care Improvement) models. And in Texas Health Physicians' Group, within the integrated Texas Health Resources health system, Myers said that the group participates in commercial bundled payment models, has a Medicare Advantage program that's been in for a while, and is also partaking in four commercial ACOs with varying degrees of downside risk. The physician organization has also partnered with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas on participation in a new federal ACO initiative, the Next Gen model. 
 
Needless to say, both Myers and Sinopoli were able to offer advice for physicians by reflecting on how their organizations began their journeys into risk. Sinopoli said that leaders in South Carolina realized that there was a need to come together as a state in developing networks so that various entities could manage populations together. "But everyone is in different states of readiness, support, infrastructure, and experience," Sinopoli said. "It has taken us a decade to develop the competencies we have today, and we're not the gold standard. You need to develop that culture and infrastructure. The feds are going to push risk to the states, who will push it to the MCOs [managed care organizations], who will push it to the providers. So no matter which path you take, providers will be the ones at risk."
 
Myers offered a comparison to relay race sprinters, noting a need to work on touchpoints and handoffs. He explained: "If i were doing this over again [from the beginning], I wouldn't start with a specific [value-based program] in mind, but rather with the touchpoints. Healthcare is a relay race in a lot of ways. So [in the Olympics] you had tremendous athletes who were gifted sprinters, but they lost because they dropped the baton. A team that was much slower would be able to win if they just effectively managed the handoffs. Healthcare is similar— you have great specialists, primary care physicians, nurses and care coordinators—but it's those interfaces where things get messy. Work on getting those things ironed out and you'd be in much better position to take on APMs and advanced APMs. This means doing things like making sure you're getting medication reconciliation right, and making sure there's communication between the inpatient and outpatient spaces."
 
Patel, a health policy expert who previously served in the Obama administration working on healthcare reform, and is also a practicing primary care internist, came from a different perspective than the other two panelists since she is not in a position where she can take on downside risk as a provider. So like many Medicare clinicians, some 90 percent, she will be in the MIPS track early on. "The most practical things I see are people struggling to think about staying in MIPS, and they are paying consultants lots of money to see what's the best strategy for them," she said. 
 
But Patel doesn't think that physicians need to be spending so much time debating MIPS vs. advanced APMs. Rather, they need to first understand what they're doing well today, she said. "I don't think most physicians and C-suite leaders understand how they're performing within their internal benchmarks, let alone national ones. There are great sources of data available that I have yet to see people take real advantage of," Patel attested. "So for MACRA, rather than getting so concerned about which track to be in, know that you'll probably be in MIPS unless you have years of experience for years." As such, she urged physicians in attendance to also push their leadership and clinical teams to evaluate where they are in terms of readiness.

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