Report shows management of CMS payment program shows vulnerabilities

While CMS has made some progress towards addressing problems with the Quality Payment Program (QPP), a new report shows vulnerabilities remain regarding technical assistance for clinicians and the potential for fraud and improper payments. The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report noted that if CMS fails to sufficiently address these issues, clinicians may struggle to success under the QPP or choose not to participate. The report also found that CMS needs to put systems in place to effectively prevent, detect, and address fraud and improper payments.

CMS is implementing core provisions of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) as the QPP, a set of clinician payment reforms designed to put increased focus on the quality and value of care. The QPP is a significant shift in how Medicare calculates payment for clinicians and requires CMS to develop a complex system for measuring, reporting, and scoring the value and quality of care.

Technical assistance

The report shows that if clinicians do not receive sufficient technical assistance, they may struggle to succeed under the QPP or choose not to participate. Clinician feedback collected by CMS demonstrates widespread basic awareness of the QPP, but also indicates uncertainty regarding details of participation such as who must report and how to submit data. CMS contractors have focused largely on general education initiatives, with fewer resources devoted to more customized, practice-specific technical assistance. CMS has established a Service Center to answer questions about the QPP by phone or email. Service Center data indicate that clinicians continue to have questions about both eligibility and scoring criteria, and that small practices, in particular, need information and assistance. Small practices and clinicians in rural or medically underserved areas, who may have fewer administrative resources and less experience with prior CMS quality programs, should be prioritized for assistance. The report stated, “Clinician feedback collected by CMS demonstrates widespread awareness of the QPP, but also uncertainty about eligibility, data submission, and other key elements of the program.”

Fraud

The report also found that if CMS does not develop and implement a comprehensive QPP program integrity plan, the program will be at greater risk of fraud and improper payments. To ensure that the QPP succeeds, CMS must effectively prevent, detect, and address fraud and improper payments. QPP payment adjustments are intended to reward high-value, high-quality care. Safeguarding the validity of Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) data and the accuracy of QPP payment adjustments is critical to ensure that these payments are based on clinicians’ actual performance. Appropriate oversight is critical to prevent fraud and improper payment adjustments. CMS needs to clearly designate leadership responsibility for QPP program integrity. CMS also needs to develop a comprehensive program-integrity plan for the GPP to ensure the accuracy of MIPS data submitted by clinicians. CMS said that it “is currently in the early stages of developing an oversight plan to QPP data.”

Personal service care fraud; a growing problem for Medicaid

Medicaid personal care service (PCS) fraud cases made up a “substantial and growing” portion of cases investigated by the Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MCFUs) and greater oversight is recommended by the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). In a report covering the PCS work of MFCUs over fiscal years 2012-2015, the OIG found that these cases comprised over 12 percent of the total investigations and accounted for 34 percent of the convictions (OIG Report, OEI-12-16-00500, December 6, 2017).

Background

Personal care services are those services that support consist daily living activities, including bathing and dressing, meal preparation, and transportation. PCS providers assist the elderly, people with disabilities, and individuals with chronic or temporary health conditions, allowing these persons to remain living in their homes and communities. PCS are typically delivered through either an agency-directed PCS or a self-directed PCS, through which beneficiaries hire and supervise their own provider. PCS are offered either as an optional benefit through a Medicaid State plan or through demonstration projects and waiver programs. States are required to develop their requirement and qualification standards for PCS providers, resulting in widely varying requirements across the country.

Growing percentage

The OIG found that during the three-year review period, PCS fraud cases made up a substantial and increasing number of MFCU cases and outcomes. In FY 2015, such cases made up 12 percent of total investigations and over the review period, they made up 38 percent of indictments, and 34 percent of convictions. Furthermore, during the review period, indictments increased 56 percent and convictions increased 33 percent. Payments to PCS providers represented $13 billion out of $524 billion total Medicaid expenditures during FY 2015.

Recommendations and challenges

MCFUs have recommended that State Medicaid either enroll PCS attendants as Medicaid providers, or include PCS attendants in a provider registry. This would allow for the assignment of unique provider identification number to PCS attendants to include on claims for reimbursement. Some form of enrollment or registration is needed, as the inability to identify individual PCS attendants restricts the ability to identify fraudulent providers. MCFUs have suggested that enrolling PCS attendants in Medicaid would better inform them about Medicaid procedures and requirements.

MCFUs have also recommended the use of background checks for attendants. They found that the current, minimal, background check requirements could put vulnerable beneficiaries at risk. For example, a PCS attendant in Arizona pleaded guilty to theft and financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, after having stolen checkbooks, cash, credit cards, and personal items belonging to the beneficiaries. The PCS agency checked for felony arrests and found none; the attendant had, however, numerous misdemeanor convictions and had previously lost her nursing assistant license.

The MCFUs have also recommended using additional documentation requirements, such as requiring require PCS attendants to provide detailed or standardized timesheets and to show the start and stop times for the services. The currently minimal PCS documentation means that PCS claims data may not contain the identity of the PCS attendant, the number of hours worked, or the time of day during which the services were provided.

Lastly, the MCFUs recommended that State Medicaid agencies implement a variety of controls regarding oversight of PCS providers and their services. These controls include more frequent in-home supervisory visits, training for PCS attendants and cross-reference attendant and beneficiary location. For a variety of reasons, beneficiaries may be reluctant to report abuses and more frequent in-home visits could curtail fraud.

Funding issues

The units reported that their efforts to protect beneficiaries are hamstrung by their ineligibility to receive Federal funding to investigate and prosecute complaints in nonfacility settings. Such complaints are often referred to other agencies. Those agencies often do not receive the same level of training on patient abuse and neglect that MCFU staff receives and may have severely strained resources.

Conclusions

The report found that the volume and increase of MFCU investigations and prosecutions indicates that PCS remain vulnerable to fraud. The report noted that the recommendations are similar to those made in previous reports and states that it is crucial that federal funding authority be expanded to allow MFCUs to investigate and prosecute cases of patient abuse and neglect in nonfacility settings.

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.