2018 MACRA (MIPS) Proposed Rule: The Abridged Version

lynns-notesThe proposed rule is here, and it’s another long one! So for those who don’t have the patience (or the time) to read through the 1,000+ pages, here are some highlights from what CMS is suggesting for the second year of MIPS. Bear in mind that these are proposals; they must be confirmed in the Final Rule, which will be released by November. (What had already been set in stone within the MACRA legislation itself is the maximum penalty and related incentive: 5% in 2020 based on performance in 2018, up from 4% in 2019 based on performance in 2017.)

  • CMS would allow clinicians to use either 2014- or 2015-Certified EHR technology to report for 2018. Acknowledging the slower-than-anticipated pace at which EHRs are achieving the next required certification, this accommodation will facilitate more successful, non-rushed upgrades and provide sufficient time for training on the new capabilities and associated requirements. To encourage the move to 2015 CEHRT, 10 ACI bonus points would be awarded for its exclusive use.
  • The Quality reporting period returns to full year, but ACI (Advancing Care Information) and Improvement Activities remain at a minimum of 90 days. Cost is still unscored, but performance in this category will be evaluated by CMS and feedback will be provided to clinicians to prepare them for 2019 when, by law, the cost category must account for 30% of the MIPS score.
  • The proposed performance threshold separating “the winners” from “the losers”, (i.e., recipients of positive vs. negative payment adjustments), would increase from 3 points out of 100 in 2017 to 15 MIPS points in 2018—still an eminently achievable bar.
  • CMS would implement increased protection for small groups (≤15 eligible clinicians)—these are the practices that had been predicted to be the most vulnerable to penalties.
  • Many more clinicians would be exempt from MIPS altogether because the eligibility threshold would increase from $30,000 to $90,000 in annual Medicare revenue and from at least 100 to at least 200 Medicare patients.
  • Small groups that do participate in MIPS would receive 5 bonus points toward their score, in an attempt to level the playing field.
  • And my favorite proposal is one that specialists, in particular, will appreciate: the elimination of the restriction that all 6 quality measures had to be reported by the same submission method. In 2018, clinicians would be able to mix and match submission methods within a category. Specialists, who have typically been faced with an insufficient number of relevant eCQMs, would be able to continue reporting those measures which are available by EHR submission, but could supplement them with registry or claims measures that are also specialty specific. The result would be more meaningful reporting and more equitable scoring. This is a request that SRS has included in its comments to each of the previous proposed and final MACRA rules, so we were very happy to see this change.

MIPS is only one of the two MACRA participation options, and CMS has also proposed some changes designed to accelerate the shift from MIPS to Alternate Payment Models. More on that topic in a future post.

CMS Overpaid $729MM in MU Payments: What Does That Mean for You?

overpaid-blogIt’s been all over the press for the past week—CMS paid a lot of money in the form of EHR incentives (Meaningful Use) to providers who did not truly earn them. These inappropriate payments were revealed in a report by the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) that reviewed CMS’s compliance with Federal requirements in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program for eligible professionals from 2011-2014. Although the subject of the OIG’s audit was CMS—in contrast to the audits of providers (pre- and post-payment) that have been conducted by Figliozzi and Company—there are some important implications for providers.

Here are two of the OIG’s major conclusions:

  • 14 EPs (Eligible Professionals), out of a sample of 100 who attested to having met MU one or more times did not actually meet the MU requirements. They either could not support their attestation with sufficient evidence or had errors in their attestation. Affected payments to these providers totaled $291,222. Extrapolating on this data, the auditors estimated that CMS inappropriately paid over $729 million.
  • In addition, 471 payments to EPs who switched between the Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs were incorrectly calculated, accounting for another $2.3 million.

The report recommended that CMS:

  • recover the $291,222 from the EPs who had the unfortunate luck to have been sampled [editorial comment is mine, not the OIGs!] and found to be non-compliant;
  • recover the $2.3 million in overpayments to EPs who switched programs; and
  • try to recover some of the estimated inappropriate payments made to other providers.

It’s likely that CMS will pursue the first two recommendations, but yet to be determined what—if anything—they will do about the third. That said, however, one thing is certain: CMS will intensify its oversight going forward. (This was another of the OIG’s recommendations.) Does this mean you should abandon your plans to participate in MIPS and/or MU (Medicaid program)? Absolutely not! It does, however, imply that it will now be more important than ever to keep full documentation to support everything you submit. And, make sure to keep it somewhere that will survive any future changes in software, hardware, and/or practice staff.

Your First MACRA Decision: AAPM or MIPS?

Clinicians have two options for MACRA participation—an Advanced Alternate Payment Model (AAPM) or the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).MACRAs-2-Tracks-final

CMS has structured MACRA to encourage AAPM participation, offering clinicians a 5% lump-sum bonus on top of a share in the savings achieved by the organization. The following questions will help you determine whether you qualify for the AAPM option: 

  • Do you participate in an APM? (An ACO or other risk-based healthcare delivery program?)
  • Is your APM an AAPM? The APMs identified in the image above qualify as AAPMs by virtue of the fact that:
    • the hospital and the clinicians use certified EHR technology,
    • the organization bears both upside and downside financial risk, and
    • the providers report quality measures.

NOTE: The CMS CJR (Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement) program is now considered an AAPM. (According to the CMS Fact Sheet, this program was recently added to the list of 2017 AAPMs.)

  • Do you meet the participation volume thresholds, i.e., do you derive 25% of your Medicare revenue or see 20% of your Medicare patients through one of these channels?

If the answer to all the questions above is “Yes,” you may be a QP (qualified participant) in an AAPM. Talk to the organization’s sponsor (typically a hospital) about your participation in MACRA.

If the answer is “No,” to all, or some, of these questions, your route to MACRA success will be via MIPS, or a MIPS APM, respectively.

For more information about MIPS and MIPS APMs, see the CMS QPP website or contact me at SRS Health. I also invite you to watch (or watch again) my webinar titled, “MACRA/MIPS: The Future Starts Now.”

MIPS: The Maximum Positive Adjustment Ship Has NOT Sailed

sail-boat-blogYou’ve come out of your eggnog-induced holiday fog and realize that you did not organize your practice for full-year MIPS reporting. With January 1 now in the rear-view mirror, you regretfully—but erroneously—conclude that you have missed out on the opportunity to earn the maximum positive payment adjustment in 2019. This is a common misconception that has been perpetuated in many MIPS-related webinars, blogs, and other communications. (That confusion exists is not surprising, given the spate of changes to MACRA in the last few months and the inherent complexity of the program itself.)

The fact is: Full-year reporting is NOT required to earn the maximum positive MIPS incentive in 2019. Rather, it is performance that counts, i.e. the number of MIPS points you earn and the level of quality you demonstrate, not the length of your reporting period or the amount of data you submit. If you look at the most recent CMS presentations, you will see images and text that clarify this point.key-takeaway-v2

It could be argued—and representatives of CMS have done so—that it might be easier to achieve a high MIPS score with a longer reporting period, particularly on certain quality measures. Perhaps so… but this does not preclude clinicians from achieving an equally high score in a shorter period.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch; and there are consequences—possibly unintended—of CMS’ largess in offering the Pick Your Pace options for 2017. Regardless of how many MIPS points an eligible clinician earns in 2017, his/her 2019 payment adjustment will, of necessity, fall short of the originally planned 4% due to the legislative mandate for budget neutrality. In the Final Rule, CMS estimated that the upward adjustment potential will now be less than 1% for the base performance and under 2.4% when the additional money for exceptional performance is included. (For an explanation and graphic that explains the required “scaling process”, see pages 77340 – 77342 of the Final Rule.)

That said, however, the good news remains: You have not missed the boat! But it is time to get to work to allow yourself the time and flexibility to maximize your performance, identify the optimal reporting period, and earn the greatest reward.

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.

MACRA News: CMS Yields to Pressure with “Pick Your Pace”

yieldAs everyone is in the midst of anxiously trying to prepare for MACRA while awaiting the Final Rule, (due November 1), CMS announced yesterday that it is stepping back the requirements and the timetable to make it easier for providers to avoid the 2019 negative payment adjustments set out in the Proposed Rule. This decision comes in the wake of 4,000 comments and subsequent pressure from professional groups and from Congressmen/women pleading for relief from the rushed implementation of a complex and overly aggressive set of requirements that would negatively impact many practices, particularly small groups.

Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of CMS, published a blog that gave an overview of the new options that allow providers to “pick their pace” of complying. It appears that the only way a provider would receive a negative adjustment in 2019 would be if they do almost nothing in 2017. He outlined 4 options for participation:

  1. Do something! Avoid a negative payment adjustment in 2019 by submitting some data in 2017. This begs the question: what constitutes “some data?” Does this mean some data in each MIPS category, some data in one category, quality data only? (To me, the wording in Slavitt’s blog is reminiscent of CMS’ past MU shift to “capability enabled” or “met for 1 patient”.)
  2. Report for a short reporting period (“a reduced number of days”) could qualify you for a “small” positive payment adjustment.
  3. Comply with MIPS as defined in the Proposed Rule—or I assume, as it will be defined in the Final Rule— for the full calendar year and you could qualify for a “modest” positive payment adjustment.
  4. Participate in MACRA’s Advanced Alternate Payment Model option. CMS is hinting that it may broaden the definition of an APM.

This news will no doubt be greeted with relief and cheers by most providers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are left feeling more uncertain now of what will be required in 2017 than they did before the announcement! What constitutes sufficient reporting in options 1 and 2 above? How many days are in a short reporting period—90 perhaps? How do the revised “small” and “modest” payment adjustments compare to the potential 4% proposed for 2017 and to each other? Will performance still be evaluated relative to other providers? And what happened to budget neutrality, i.e., where is this money coming from if hardly anyone will receive a negative adjustment?

Please let us know what you think of this latest MACRA news, and stay tuned as we learn more!

MIPS: 5 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare

5-things-mips-blogEven though the final MACRA rule is not expected until November 1, 2016, you would be well advised to start putting an action plan in place now. As proposed, the first performance year begins on January 1, 2017, a mere 2 months after the expected release of the Final Rule—you won’t have sufficient time to prepare if you wait until then. Yes, CMS has hinted about a possible delay or a shortened reporting period (in response to numerous concerns expressed in the 4,000 comments to the proposed rule), but you cannot bank on that until it is finalized. There are things you can do to start planning your strategy and improve your chances of success when this first regulatory foray into value-based payment begins:

  1. Focus on 2016 PQRS reporting: Quality reporting carries a 50% weighting next year, which makes it the most important of the 4 MIPs performance targets, (the others being Advancing Care Information, aka MU; Clinical Practice Improvement Activities; and Resource use, aka cost). Take advantage of the next 4 months to improve your quality measure workflow and reporting.
  1. Think about whether to report MIPS as individual physicians or as a group: It’s important to look at your practice’s current MU and PQRS performance as a predictor of which option might be more beneficial. You may already be reporting PQRS as a GPRO—success here makes a strong argument for reporting all categories as a group. (Remember, as proposed, you must report consistently across all 4 MIPS categories.)
  1. Develop workflows to support success: Identify the ACI patient engagement and health information exchange (HIE) measures that are of most interest or relevance to your practice. Analyze and try to enhance the workflows that support these measures. Ask your EHR vendor for a professional services evaluation—they may be able to offer assistance in this regard.
  1. Review the list of Clinical Practice Improvement Activities: Review the list provided in Table H of the Proposed Rule. Are there activities that fit your practice or possibly some that you were considering, even before MACRA?
  1. Evaluate your current technology resources: Is your EHR up to the job—or is it killing your productivity, particularly when you use it to meet the government requirements? If you are not satisfied, now is a good time implement new technology.

The most important step to take now and in the coming months is to keep yourself educated and up to date as the regulations evolve and the start date approaches, (But you clearly know that, since you’re reading this post!) On cms.gov, you will find Quality Payment Program Resources pages. You can also consult your professional societies/academies for specialty-specific guidance or reach out to your EHR vendor for training. I invite you to watch (or watch again) my webinar titled, “MACRA/MIPS: 962 Pages in 30 Minutes”, which is available on demand.