CMS strategies to reward Medicaid providers that improve care and lower costs

CMS has provided information for states interested in implementing Medicaid payment initiatives designed to reward providers that, for example, cut costs, improve access to care, or raise care quality. Under the Medicaid managed care rules, states are permitted to direct specific payments made by managed care plans to providers under certain circumstances, if the state first obtains CMS approval for the program (CMCS Informational Bulletin, November 2, 2017).

Managed care rules

Under 42 C.F.R. Sec. 438.6(c) there are three categories of state plans to implement delivery system and provider payment initiatives for managed care contracts:

1. Value-based purchasing models, which include bundled payments, episode-based payments, accountable care organizations, or other alternative models intended to recognize value or outcomes.
2. Performance improvement initiatives, which include pay-for-performance arrangements, quality-based payments, or population-based payment models.
3. Provider payment parameters, which include minimum fee schedules, a uniform dollar or percentage increase, and maximum fee schedules.

CMS approval

The regulation also requires that CMS approve these state-directed payment initiatives prior to implementation. To be approved, the initiatives must (1) be based on utilization and delivery of services to Medicaid beneficiaries covered under the contract and (2) contain payments that are directed equally, using the same terms of performance across a class of providers.

Plan components

The directed payments must advance at least one of the goals and objectives in the state’s Medicaid managed care quality strategy. States must also have a plan for evaluating whether the directed payment arrangement achieved the objectives. The evaluation plan should include: (1) identification of the performance criteria used to assess progress, (2) baseline data for performance measures, and (3) improvement targets for performance measures. States are generally free to determine which performance measures are most appropriate. If a state’s initiative is from either of the first two categories listed above (value-based purchasing models or performance improvement initiatives), the directed payments must make provider participation available across all payers and providers, using the same terms of performance and a common set of performance measures. In these two approaches, states cannot set the amount or frequency of the expenditures, nor can they recoup any unspent funds.

Multi-year arrangements

Directed payment arrangements cannot be automatically renewable, for example, annually, because CMS wants states to monitor the arrangements at least annually. CMS understands, however, that some states may want to implement multi-year payment arrangements to achieve longer-term goals. As a result, CMS has said that a multi-year arrangement will be permitted if the following conditions exist: (1) the state explicitly identifies the payment arrangement as a multi-year payment effort, (2) the state develops and describes a plan for pursuing a multi-year payment effort and the impact of the multi-year arrangement on the state’s goals, (3) no changes will be made to the payment methodology during the multi-year project, and (4) CMS approves the multi-year payment arrangement.

Plans not covered

Not all payment arrangements fall within the 42 C.F.R. 438.6(c) requirements. If a payment arrangement does not meet the regulations criteria, it need not, of course, obtain CMS approval. CMS has provided two examples:

1. States implementing a general requirement for managed care plans to increase provider reimbursement for services to Medicaid beneficiaries, as long as the state is not mandating specific payment methodology or amounts, and managed care plans retain the discretion for the amount, timing, and method for making provider payments.
2. States contractually implementing a general requirement for managed care plans to use value-based purchasing or alternative payment arrangements but the state does not mandate a specific payment methodology, and managed care plans retain the discretion to negotiate with network providers on specific terms.

Compliance date

The compliance date for obtaining 42 C.F.R. 438.6(c) approval is the rating period for Medicaid managed care contracts beginning on or after July 1, 2017. If states use a preprinted form that CMS has prepared, CMS commits to process the request within 90 calendar days of receipt.

Pilot program

The 42 C.F.R. 438.6(c) approval process has already been implemented in a pilot program. Three examples of state programs that were approved under the pilot program are:

1. A state plan to require managed care plans to pay an enhanced minimum fee schedule for professional services provided to Medicaid beneficiaries in an academic medical center by faculty physicians through a sub-capitated payment arrangement, to ensure that all Medicaid managed care enrollees have timely access to high-end specialty care.
2. A state plan to require managed care plans to pay quality incentive payments to acute care hospitals rendering services to Medicaid beneficiaries, to reduce potentially preventable readmissions.
3. A state plan to require managed care plans to pay Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) operating in their networks a per-member per-month rate for Medicaid beneficiaries, to incentivize providers to form ACOs that will be accountable for the total cost of care and the quality of care.

Health care regulatory burdens costs $39B per year, AHA says

To quantify the level and impact of the regulatory burden on America’s health care system, the American Hospital Association (AHA) in conjunction with Manatt Health conducted a comprehensive study of federal law and regulations in nine regulatory domains from four federal agencies. Among the findings of the study were that health systems, hospitals and post-acute care (PAC) providers must comply with 629 discrete regulatory requirements across nine domains, that the average size hospital dedicates 59 full time employees (FTEs) to regulatory compliance, the cost to providers for regulatory compliance is nearly $39 billion, and, perhaps most significant: some of the rules do not improve patient care but all of them raise costs.

Background

Every day, health systems, hospitals and post-acute care (PAC) providers—such as long-term care hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies—confront the daunting task of complying with a growing number of federal regulations. Federal regulation is largely intended to ensure that health care patients receive safe, high-quality care. In recent years, however, clinical staff, including doctors, nurses and caregivers, find themselves devoting more time to regulatory compliance, thereby taking them away from patient care. Some of these rules do not improve care, and all of them raise costs. Patients are adversely affected through less time with their caregivers, unnecessary hurdles to receiving care, and a growing regulatory morass that fuels higher health care costs.

Why the AHA conducted the review

The AHA conducted a comprehensive review of federal law and regulations in nine regulatory domains from four federal agencies in order to quantify the level and impact of regulatory burden. Their report seeks to inform policymakers, lawmakers, and the public about the administrative impact federal regulatory requirements have on the ability of health systems, hospitals, and PAC providers to furnish high quality patient care, and to offer a starting point for discussions on implementing meaningful regulatory reform. Reducing regulatory requirements that do not contribute to improved patient care will enable providers to focus on patients, not paperwork, and reinvest resources in improving care, improving health, and reducing costs.

How the AHA conducted the study

The study included interviews with 33 executives at four health systems, and a survey of 190 hospitals that included systems and hospitals with PAC facilities. The researchers examined the Federal Register and the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations for regulations impacting hospitals and PAC providers across the nine domains. They then reviewed each section of the regulations and identified discrete regulatory requirements that generate one or more administrative activities, such as:

  • creating, revising or expanding administrative policies and work flows;
  • documenting and monitoring compliance with policies and work flows;
  • hiring staff, consultants and vendors to support administrative compliance activities, such as extracting and reporting data;
  • developing and conducting trainings on administrative requirements for clinical and nonclinical staff;
  • issuing or revising and disseminating new patient notices; and
  • interpreting and identifying the compliance risks associated with new regulations; and, purchasing or upgrading health IT.

Significant findings

Among the major findings of the study were the following:

1. Health systems, hospitals and PAC providers must comply with 629 discrete regulatory requirements across nine domains, including 341 hospital-related requirements and 288 PAC-related requirements.
2. Health systems, hospitals and PAC providers spend nearly $39 billion a year solely on the administrative activities related to regulatory compliance in these nine domains. An average-sized community hospital (161 beds) spends nearly $7.6 million annually on administrative activities to support compliance with the reviewed federal regulations.
3. An average size hospital dedicates 59 FTEs to regulatory compliance, over one quarter of which are doctors and nurses.
4. The timing and pace of regulatory change make compliance challenging, while the frequency and pace with which regulations change often results in the duplication of efforts and substantial amounts of clinician time away from patient care.

Review recommendations

The AHA study identified specific activities which Congress and the Administration should take immediately to reduce regulatory burden and enhance care coordination, without negatively impacting patient care. These include:

  • Suspend the faulty hospital star ratings from the Hospital Comparewebsite.
  • Cancel Stage 3 of meaningful use of electronic medical records.
  • Suspend all regulatory requirements that mandate submission of electronic clinical quality measures.
  • Rescind the long-term care hospital 25 percent rule and instead rely on the site-neutral payment policy to bring transformative change to the field.
  • Restore compliant codes that count to the inpatient rehabilitation facility 60 percent rule.
  • Eliminate the “96-hour rule” as a condition of payment for critical access hospitals.
  • Modify Medicare conditions of participation to allow hospitals to recommend post-acute care providers.
  • Create a new exception that protects any arrangement that meets the terms of an Anti-Kickback Statute safe harbor for clinical integration arrangements.

The AHA’s recommendations were more fully described in letters sent to President Trump, CMS, and Congress.

Report finds flaws in proposals for premium support programs in Medicare

The Urban Institute issued a report titled “Restructuring Medicare: The False Promise of Premium Support,” in which the authors attempt to point out the potential flaws in the proposed premium support program in Medicare. The report states that the proposals attempt to model the program off of the arguably successful Medicare Advantage (MA) program, but fail to account for the features of MA that actually make it work. According to the Urban Institute, the proposals also ultimately shift the burden of the rising cost of the Medicare program to the beneficiaries, who are not in a position to shoulder the increased costs.

The proposal

Current Medicare beneficiaries can choose between traditional Medicare, where they have defined benefits covered by specified providers, or MA, where the beneficiary picks from a selection of private plans that have been approved by Medicare and charge close to traditional Medicare costs. A premium support program would allow beneficiaries a fixed-dollar contribution that they could take and apply to the insurance plan they choose in a health insurance marketplace. Beneficiaries could choose a plan that costs more than their Medicare contribution amount, but they would be responsible for paying the difference out of their own pocket. Supporters of this proposed program argue that setting a fixed cost for each beneficiary would reduce government spending and the marketplace would create competition, which would in turn drive down prices.

Burden shifting

Proponents of the premium support plan argue that without the plan, the Medicare program will run out of money, noting that the “CBO projects that between 2017 and 2047, Medicare spending will grow from 3.1 percent to 6.7 percent of GDP.” However, the report argues that the proponents of are focusing on the wrong problem. The aging-in of the baby boom generation is expected to increase Medicare enrollment by about 50 percent by 2030. By focusing on the cost of premiums and restructuring the program to force more beneficiaries to pay more out of pocket, they are shifting the burden of the increase in incoming enrollees to the beneficiaries. Medicare beneficiaries reported an annual median income of about $25,000 in 2012. “Medicare households spent nearly three times as much of their household budgets on out-of-pocket spending as non-Medicare households did” in 2012. A premium support plan could potentially increase the financial burden on those low-income beneficiaries, and force them into plans that they wouldn’t choose otherwise just to alleviate some of that financial burden.

Competitive markets

Proponents argue that forcing insurance plans to submit bids to participate similar to the way MA does would create competition and lead to lower premiums. The government contribution would then be set based on a weighted average of all of the bids for each region. However, premiums can drastically vary within a region and if premiums are higher in an area than the benchmark government contribution for the region, beneficiaries would be forced to pay the difference. The difference between earlier versions of the premium support plan and the current proposals show that the proponents have noted that there would not be an even playing field in all areas and they have attempted to come up with different ways to set the government contribution amount and increase it annually based on different factors. The MA program has an administratively set benchmark government contribution that is based on traditional Medicare spending in each area, which varies significantly compared to the bids.

Providers who bid to participate in MA are aware that there is a billing limit and they will be paid Medicare rates. The premium support plan does not take into account the impact this has on who submits bids and at what rate. In 2013, “CBO found that commercial insurance rates for inpatient hospital services were 89 percent higher than traditional Medicare rates, but Medicare Advantage plan rates for inpatient services were roughly equal to traditional Medicare’s rates.” Private insurers competing with one another in the bidding process are not likely to drop their prices down to Medicare level rates unless limits are placed on the billing of Medicare beneficiaries, similar to the limits in the MA programs. This leaves Medicare beneficiaries effectively priced out of these competing private insurance plans.

Despite uncertainty about ACA most states moving forward with Medicaid expansion

Although the future of Medicaid funding is unclear with the ongoing efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), many states were still working to expand Medicaid services and benefits, according to a joint Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Health Management Associates (HMA) report. In an annual survey collecting data about Medicaid policies in place or implemented in fiscal year 2017 and policy changes that will be implemented or are being discussed for fiscal year 2018 in each state and the District of Columbia, KFF and HMA noted that some of the biggest changes are occurring in eligibility policies, managed care reforms, and the expansion of benefits.

Eligibility and Premiums

In 2017, seven states made changes to expand Medicaid eligibility and in 2018 another seven are planning to implement eligibility expansions. These changes include eliminating the 5-year bar on Medicaid eligibility for lawfully-residing immigrant children or providing coverage for a new eligibility group of individuals who are chronically homeless, justice-involved, or in need of substance abuse or mental health treatment with an income below 5 percent of the federal poverty level. A few states are looking to make changes to restrict Medicaid eligibility by imposing work requirements and asset tests.

In recent years, many states have made changes to the way Medicaid coverage is handled when beneficiaries are in the criminal justice system. Some states have opted to suspend coverage when someone is incarcerated rather than terminate coverage, as they have done previously, so it is easier to reinstate coverage when the beneficiary is released. Additionally, some states have developed initiatives to work with and train criminal justice employees to assist with Medicaid applications after a person is released.

Managed Care

Twenty-nine of 39 states with risk-based managed care organizations (MCOs) reported that 75 percent or more of their Medicaid beneficiaries were in enrolled in MCOs as of July 1, 2017. Most states carve-out certain services, such as behavioral health services, from their MCO contracts. In 2017 at least six states took steps to carve in behavioral health services into their MCO contracts and ten states reported plans to work toward carving in behavior health services in 2018. Twenty-six of the 39 MCO states reported that they would use the funds available for inpatient psychiatric treatment or substance use treatment under the 2016 Medicaid Managed Care Final Rule; however, many states commented that the 15-day limit was too restrictive for the type of treatment that it was meant to cover. Sixteen states in 2017 and 17 states plan in 2018 to include specific initiatives to encourage MCOs that cover LTSS to expand access to home and immunity-based services (HCBS).

Benefits

Twenty-six states reported new or enhanced benefits in 2017 and 17 states plan to add or enhance benefits in 2018. These added benefits include mental health and substance use disorder services, alternative plain therapies, family planning and cancer screenings. Nineteen states reported new or expanded initiatives to expand dental access or improve oral health outcomes in 2017 or 2018. Additionally, 19 states reported initiatives to expand the use of telehealth in 2018 or 2019. For 2018, 22 states reported plants to adopt or expand initiatives such as patient-centered medical homes or accountable care organizations in an effort to encourage integrated care. Fourteen states in 2017 and 13 states plan in 2018 to report expansions and additions to the HCBS programs, including personal supports, supported employment, home delivered and medically tailored meals among others.

Although most states are continuing to look ahead to expand Medicaid benefits and eligibility, almost all states are still concerned about the negative fiscal consequences that they would face in the proposed limits on federal Medicaid spending. Medicaid directors from the 32 ACA Medicaid expansion states reported the states would not be able to continue providing coverage for expansion population, or the coverage would be at a substantial risk, if the ACA federal match was terminated.