MedPAC votes to recommend recalculation of MA benchmarks

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) unanimously voted to recommend that the HHS Secretary modify the calculation of Medicare Advantage (MA) benchmarks. The recommended change, discussed at the January 12, 2017, MedPAC meeting, would increase spending between $750 million and $2 billion over one year and between $5 billion to $10 billion over five years. Mark Miller, executive director of MedPAC, suggested, however, that previous coding recommendations from the June 2016 report could offset the increased cost.

CMS sets the MA county benchmark based on the average risk-adjusted per capita Part A and Part B fee-for-service (FFS) spending in the county. While this calculation includes all beneficiaries in Part A or Part B, MA enrollees must be in both Part A and Part B. MedPAC policy analyst Scott Harrison noted that 12 percent of FFS beneficiaries are enrolled in Part A only, and Part A-only beneficiaries spend less than half than what those with Part A and Part B spend on Part A. This, he said results in an underestimate of FFS spending compared to MA spending, which leads, in turn, to an understatement of MA benchmarks.

To make calculations more reflective of MA enrollment, the members voted on a draft recommendation, which they also discussed at the December 2016 meeting, that the HHS Secretary should calculate MA benchmarks using FFS spending data only for beneficiaries enrolled in both Part A and Part B.

CMS already adjusts the rate calculation in Puerto Rico so that it is based on beneficiaries who are enrolled in both Part A and Part B. In the April 2016 Announcement of Calendar Year 2017 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter, CMS stated in response to a comment that it would consider expanding this Part A and Part B adjustment to all counties in the future.

At the same meeting, MedPAC also voted to recommend that the Secretary should require hospitals to add a modifier on claims for all surgical services provided at off-campus, stand-alone emergency department facilities. The modifier would allow Congress and CMS to track the growth of off-campus emergency departments, which are reimbursed at higher rates than urgent care centers.

Hospital appeals settlement recipients identified by CMS

More than 2,000 hospitals that received almost $1.5 billion in total settlement money from CMS for fee-for-service denials based on patient status reviews for admissions prior to October 1, 2013, were identified by name, provider number, total claims settled, and amount of money received. The settlement, which was paid in 2015 at 68 percent of the net allowable amount, gave providers a guaranteed timely payment in exchange for withdrawing pending appeals that were tied up waiting through a large administrative hearing backlog. Settled claims numbers ranged from one to almost 3,000, with amounts paid between $0 and almost $16 million.

The settlement was a one-time offer by CMS to alleviate the burdens on the Medicare appeals system. The agency only settled claims for patients admitted prior to October 1, 2013, because it believed that the two-midnight rule, which began on that date, would reduce future appeals volume (see CMS offers partial payments for certain Part A hospital claims under appeal, Health Law Daily, September 3, 2014; CMS pays $1.3B to settle hospital inpatient claims, Health Law Daily, June 15, 2015).

The administrative hearing backlog remains a problem for CMS, which last month proposed regulations to improve the efficiency of the Medicare appeals process and address the increasing number of backlogged appeals waiting for administrative adjudication (Proposed rule, 81 FR 43789, July 5, 2016). The settlement offer was made nine months after Nancy Griswold, Chief Administrative Law Judge for HHS’ Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA), said that there were 375,000 claims waiting for adjudication and suspended new requests for hearings before an administrative law judge. As of April 2016, however, OMHA had over 750,000 pending appeals. The two-midnight rule, which did not have the desired effect of reducing appeals, has also ended after hospital backlash (see 1.5 percent payment cut overshadows end of Two-Midnight, Health Law Daily, August 3, 2016).