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.”

Wait! Physicians are not ready for the QPP

Physicians expressed concern over their knowledge of and preparedness for Medicare’s Quality Payment Program (QPP) in a recent American Medical Association (AMA) and KPMG consulting survey. Only 10 percent of responding physicians expressed feeling deeply knowledgeable about the Medicare Access and Chip Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (P.L. 114-10) or the QPP and 90 percent of respondents indicated that they find the requirements of MACRA’s merit based incentive payment system (MIPS) to be slightly or very burdensome.

QPP

MACRA created the QPP, which, in January 2017, began marking the quality performance of physicians. In 2019, the program will make adjustments to physician payments under one of two tracks: (1) MIPS or (2) a 5 percent lump sum bonus payment if the physician has a threshold percentage of patients or revenue in an advanced alternative payment model (Advanced APM). Because little is known about physician preparation under the program, the AMA and KPMG conducted a survey to gauge physician readiness and knowledge. The survey of 1000 physicians was conducted between April 25 and May 1, 2017, prior to proposed updates to the QPP program released on June 30, 2017 (see Halfway through QPP ‘transition year,’ CMS proposes substantial changes, June 30, 2017).

Findings 

Only 51 percent of physicians expressed feeling somewhat knowledgeable about MACRA and the QPP. Seven in 10 respondents have begun preparation for QPP in 2017, however, of those respondents preparing for MIPS in 2018, only 65 percent reported feeling prepared. The vast majority of respondents—90 percent—indicated that they found MIPS’ requirements burdensome. The cause of that burden, for most respondents, was the time and cost associated with reporting. Physicians expressed specific concerns regarding the unknown financial ramifications of the program, with only 8 percent of respondents indicating they were very prepared for long-term financial success under the program.

Impact

The AMA and KPMG survey concluded that some impacts—time and complexity of reporting—impact physicians regardless of practice size, specialty, or previous reporting experience. Additionally, physicians across practice areas agree that long-term financial impacts remain uncertain and that the program would benefit from more APMs.

HHS provides funding for training small practices in Quality Payment Program

HHS will provide $20 million in funding that will be used to train Medicare clinicians in small practices on the Quality Payment Program. These funds will be primarily directed toward clinicians practicing in underserved areas, including rural areas and health professional shortage areas. This amount of funding will be provided annually for the next five years.

Quality Payment Program

The proposed Quality Payment Program would implement the changes created by Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which reformed clinician payment for serving Medicare patients. The proposal streamlined various value and quality programs into two paths. Under the program, physicians would be able to choose from the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs) (see Physician reporting streamlined, less burdensome under flexible Quality Payment Program, Health Law Daily, April 28, 2016).

Under MIPS, physicians would submit information about four performance categories. Then, a composite performance score is generated and compared against a threshold. This threshold determines the payment adjustment. Under APMs, physicians would receive a lump sum payment that could grow annually.

Small practices

Secretary Burwell emphasized the administration’s commitment to providing resources to small and rural practices that will allow them to provide quality care. Organizations must show that they are able to provide training to individual clinicians or small group practices of no more than 15 clinicians to become eligible for funding. The training would include creating a strategy for Quality Payment Program participation, such as adding electronic health record (EHR) capability, joining an APM, and evaluating practice workflow.