The Final MACRA Rule: Free Pass or Risk-Free Opportunity

opportunity-ahead-blogCMS has given providers an early holiday present with the Final MACRA Rule, affording everyone the opportunity to easily avoid a penalty in 2019. This is surely reassuring news and has been widely received with a huge sigh of relief—but before you let your guard down, it is important to acknowledge that the program will build back up to an only slightly modified version of its originally proposed self, with many of the complexities and challenges intact. CMS is calling 2017—and to a lesser extent 2018—“transition years.” Treating them as such offers an opportunity to prepare for the future, while treating them as a free pass only delays the inevitable.

In 2017, eligible clinicians who participate in MIPS can protect their 2019 Medicare fee schedule by merely reporting any ONE of the following:

  • 1 quality measure, or
  • 1 Improvement Activity (formerly called Clinical Practice Improvement Activities), or
  • The 4 required Advancing Care Information (formerly Meaningful Use) measures.

Anyone who has participated in Meaningful Use and/or PQRS has already far exceeded these requirements, and will find this an extremely low bar. So why not aim for one of the more advanced “pick your pace” participation options and potentially benefit from an upward adjustment to your fee schedule? All it takes is reporting anything more than the above for a period of at least 90 days, and you could earn a “small” adjustment in 2019. Participate more fully—for anywhere from 90 days to a full year—and you could be eligible for the maximum, albeit “modest,” payment adjustment. (Note that it is performance that drives the payment adjustment, not the length of the reporting period.)

The downside of this new flexibility is that these “small” and “modest” adjustments for successful MIPS participants will now be very small or modest in 2019—far short of the originally planned 4%. Congress mandated that MACRA be budget neutral, so with dramatically fewer losers in 2017 to fund the gains of the winners, bonuses will be scaled down. Near-term financial rewards are unlikely to be a strong motivator of compliance this year.

However, by 2020, the difference between the most and least successful providers will exceed 18% (i.e., 2022 payment adjustments will range from -9% to +9% with potential additional bonuses available for the highest performers). So while it might be tempting to sit back and relax next year, consider using 2017 instead as it was intended—as a transition from MU and PQRS to MACRA. If you have been successful in the past, now is a good time to experiment with new workflows, new technologies, and/or alternate measures or reporting methods that might improve your performance. If you’ve never participated in these programs before, you can start now and get off the penalty track.

You can view the 2017 Final Rule as a free pass or as an opportunity—the choice is yours.

Lynn Scheps

Lynn Scheps

VP, Government Affairs & Consulting Services at SRS Health
Lynn Scheps is a leading resource on MACRA, MIPS, and Meaningful Use. She is the SRS liaison with government policy makers. Representing the voice of specialists and other high-performance physicians, she develops strategies to respond effectively to government initiatives.
Lynn Scheps