AHA asks MedPAC to slow its roll on MACRA proposals

The American Hospital Association (AHA) believes that changes to the implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) should wait until more data is available from providers. In a letter to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), the AHA expressed concerns about several proposals, including assigning clinicians to groups, aggregating results at the local market level, and replacing most clinician-reported measures. The AHA also addressed rising drug costs, encouraging MedPAC to focus on the issue.

MedPAC meeting

The letter serves as AHA’s response to MedPAC’s January meeting, during which the commission discussed items to include in a report to Congress in June. MACRA created two payment systems, the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM), which are in the early stages of implementation by clinicians and hospitals. The January meeting involved discussion of several policy changes, including a MIPS redesign, which the AHA believes should be delayed until data and experience from these clinicians is available for consideration. The AHA noted that the first performance period for both programs began January 1, 2017, and that CMS views this as a “transition year” for MIPS.

Policy proposals

MedPAC proposed assigning clinicians to groups or regions and assigning an aggregate MIPS quality and cost performance score based on the performance of others in the community. The AHA believes that clinicians should be permitted to voluntarily collaborate, and that applying an aggregate score would be arbitrary. Additionally, the AHA proposes providing an option for hospital-based physicians to use the hospital’s CMS quality and resource use measure performance for MIPS. However, the association opposes the proposal to replace clinician-reported outcomes measures with CMS measures based on Medicare claims data. The AHA pointed out that claims data does not reflect a patient’s particular history, course of care, and risk factors, which would result in basing clinician performance on unreliable data.

The APM has an incentive payment designed to encourage participation in the model, rather than reward or penalize performance. MedPAC proposed only allowing participating clinicians to receive this incentive upon successfully achieving the APM’s goals. The AHA views such a change as a double reward or double penalty for participants, rather than compensation for the learning curve and resource investment required upon entering new payment models. The AHA also expressed concerns about the proposals intended to “balance” incentives offered for MIPS and APMs, believing that these proposals make MIPS less attractive than APMs, even though AHA members believe that MIPS is already a less attractive option.

Drug pricing

The AHA believes that changes to Medicare Parts B and D could alleviate some of the drug cost burdens borne by the federal government and beneficiaries. The AHA expressed several concerns about Part B drug payment policy solutions, fearing that these changes could penalize hospitals for price increases and shift the burden for high list prices onto physicians. However, the AHA supports MedPAC’s Part D proposals while offering proposals of its own: disallowing co-pay assistance cards, developing value-based payment arrangements, requiring rebates, varying patient cost-sharing, and issuing annual reports.

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.

House committee requests justification for Medicare Advantage policy changes

The House Ways and Means committee is concerned that CMS’ proposed changes to encounter data, employer group waiver plans (EGWPs), and risk adjustments are not “appropriately targeted.” The committee requested additional information about these changes from the CMS acting administrator following the 2017 Medicare Advantage and Part D Advance Notice of Payment Policies and Draft Call Letter (see CMS proposes 2017 Medicare Advantage and Part D program changes, Health Law Daily, February 22, 2016). The letter expressed the committee’s appreciation for CMS’ attention to key issues, such as providing better care for those dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Encounter data

When CMS first proposed adopting 10 percent of encounter data for risk adjustment, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) found that the agency needed to make operational changes in order to use the data effectively. The committee requested a summary of how the policy will impact plans, if available, or at least an explanation of the rationale for the change. It also asked how the agency has responded to GAO and MedPAC concerns, and requested information about how CMS plans to monitor the quality and utility of encounter data.

EGWPs and risk adjustments

MA-based managed care benefits are often provided to retirees by their former employers, but the committee believed that the proposed policy changes for EGWPs should not be finalized as written. The members noted that the changes may hamper employers’ ability to provide retiree benefits, and requested a summary of any analysis CMS has done on the impact of the policy change on plants and beneficiaries. It also wondered what authority CMS is using to propose such payment changes, and asked how CMS plans to handle implementing policy changes for multi-year contracts to avoid disrupting plan stability.

While the committee was pleased with CMS’ efforts to reduce the impact of social determinants on the MA plan star rating system, it believed that plans should be offered a reasonable amount of time to make changes as new risk adjustment policies are implemented. It requested a summary of the agency’s methodology and analysis that resulted in claims that the proposed risk adjustment policy would have a small net negative impact on plans. The committee also asked why the agency did not propose policies for addressing care given to low-income beneficiaries who are not dual eligible but have multiple chronic conditions.