CMS

flying cadeuciiThis Year’s Meaningful Use “Sticks”: Not that Big

CMS reports that the majority of physicians who will be penalized this year for not having met MU requirements will lose less than $1,000 of their Medicare reimbursement; 34% of the penalties will be $250 or less, while 31% will exceed $2,000.

The adjustments will impact approximately 257,000 eligible providers. While no one likes losing money, the CMS penalty “stick” is pretty small compared to the overall cost of implementing an EHR.

Mayo Provides Dr. Google with 2nd Opinion

Google consults with the Mayo Clinic to expand its healthcare information for 400 medical conditions.

Given that 20% of all Google searches are related to health conditions, the change will no doubt shake up what Americans find when searching for medical information. The update includes the addition of illustrations for each condition, plus a full list of search results from sites such as WebMD and Wikipedia.

Continue reading “HIT Newser: The Not-So-Big Meaningful Use Stick”

Craig GarthwaiteBarring a Republican landslide in 2016, it looks like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here to stay.  By and large, we think that is a good thing.  While there are many things in the ACA that we would like to see changed, the law has provided needed coverage for millions of Americans that found themselves (for a variety of reasons) shut out of the health insurance market.

That being said, since its passage the ACA has evolved and the rule makers in CMS continue to tinker around the edges.  We are especially encouraged by CMS’ willingness to relax some of the restrictions on insurance design, but remain concerned about some of the rules governing employers and the definition of what is “insurance.”  In the next few blogs we will examine some of the best, and worst, of the ongoing ACA saga.

We start with one of CMS’s best moves—encouraging reference pricing.  The term reference pricing was first used in conjunction with European central government pricing of pharmaceuticals.  Germany and other countries place drugs into therapeutic categories (such as statins or antipsychotics) and announce a “reference price” which insurers (either public or, in Germany, quasi-public) that insurers will reimburse for the drug.  Patients may purchase more expensive drugs, but they were financially responsible for all costs above the references price.  Research shows that reference pricing helps reduce drug spending both by encouraging price reductions (towards the reference price) and reducing purchases of higher priced drugs within a reference category.  Other research has found suggestive evidence of similar results for reference pricing for medical services.

While the ACA does little to govern pricing in the pharma market, the concept of reference pricing can and should be extended other medical products and services.  In particular, insurers can establish reference prices for bundled episodes of illness such as joint replacement surgery.  Under the original ACA rules set forth by CMS, insurers were free to establish a fixed price for bundled episodes.  They could even require enrollees to pay the full difference between the provider’s price and the reference price.  But there was a catch. It wasn’t clear if any spending above the reference price would count to the enrollees by enrollees out of pocket limits (currently $6,600 for individual plans and $13,200 for family plans).  Obviously, allowing the out of pocket limit to bind on reference pricing would limit the effectiveness of this cost control measure.

Continue reading “Where Does the ACA Go From Here?”

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.33.17 PMOf the many hidden gems in the Affordable Care Act, one of my favorites is Physician Compare.  This website could end up being a game changer—holding doctors accountable for their care and giving consumers a new way to compare and choose doctors.  Or it could end up a dud.

The outcome depends on how brave and resolute the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is over the next few years.  That’s because the physician lobby has been less than thrilled with Physician Compare, and, for that matter, with every other effort to publically report measures of physician performance and quality.

I’d give CMS a C+ to date.   Not bad considering it’s the tough task.  The agency has been cautious and deliberate.  But after the many problems with Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare, and Dialysis Facility Compare—not to mention the shadow of healthcare.gov’s initial rollout—that’s understandable.  They want, I hope, to get this one right from the get-go.  And competition from the private sector looms.

Continue reading “What’s Next For Physician Compare?”

flying cadeucii Omnibus Bill Impacts HIT

The 2015 federal budget includes about $60.4 million for the ONC, which is less than the $75 million requested and on par with the 2014 budget. Congress allocated an additional $38.8 million to the HHS Office for Civil Rights, the agency that enforces HIPAA. Also in the bill: a controversial requirement for the ONC to decertify products that block health information sharing.

Appalling Meaningful Use Penalties

CMS reports that more than 257,000 eligible professionals will face penalties in 2015 for failing to meet Meaningful Use requirements. The AMA quickly announced it was “appalled by the news.”

Another Call to Cut Reporting Period

A group of 30 Republican House members call on HHS to shorten the 2015 Meaningful Use reporting period from 365 days to 90 days. A number of professional groups, including the AAFP and CHIME, support the extension.

From Foes to Financiers

Former Allscripts executives Glen Tullman and Lee Shapiro invest in Lightbeam Health Solutions, a population health management solution provider. Pat Cline, the founder and former president of NextGen, is currently Lightbeam’s CEO.

ATA Offers Accreditation

The American Telemedicine Association launches an accreditation program for providers offering online, real-time consults to patients. 

Continue reading “HIT Newser: Appalling Meaningful Use Penalties”

flying cadeuciiCMS Gives Hospitals One Month Attestation Reprieve

CMS extends the deadline for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals to attest for MU from November 30 to December 31, giving hospitals more time to submit MU data for the 2014 program year in order to receive payments under EHR incentive programs. CMS also pushed back the deadline for hospitals to electronically submit clinical quality measures to December 31.

VA Issues RFP for New Scheduling System

The VA issues an RFP to replace its 30 year-old appointment scheduling system with a commercially available solution to integrate with its existing VistA platform. The proposal deadline is January 9 and potential bidders will not be required to have prior experience working with the agency.

CareTech Solutions Negotiating Sale to HTC Global Services

HIT service provider CareTech Solutions files an “intent to sell” to HTC Global Services, a provider of IT services for multiple industries. Continue reading “HIT Newser: Alarm Issues Top Health Hazard List”

A No Way for Allscripts and MyWay

A North Carolina arbitration panel rules that Allscripts must pay Etransmedia $9.7 million for a breach of their partner agreement in violation of the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The panel found that Allscripts unfairly profited by inducing Etransmedia to buy MyWay software licenses and assuring Etransmedia that it would make the product Meaningful Use-compliant. Allscripts later announced that rather than update MyWay it would phase out the product, leading the panel to rule that Allscripts “deliberately sabotaged” Etransmedia’s sales efforts.

Post-Election Predictions

The recent Republican sweep of the House and Senate may bode well for health IT, predict several industry pundits. One issue that will likely be discussed: the reduction of Stage 2 MU reporting requirements from 365 days to 90 days. Also look for renewed interest in issues around interoperability, telemedicine, and regulation of medical devices, software, and mobile apps.

Stage 2 Attestations Numbers: Disappointing but Predictable

CMS reports that only 4,656 EPs and 258 hospitals have attested for Stage 2 MU through the end of September. That’s less than 17% of the nation’s hospitals and a mere two percent of EPs (though EPs have until the end of February to report their progress.) Officials from the AMA, CHIME, HIMSS, and MGMA called the results disappointing yet predictable, and renewed calls for a shortened MU reporting period in 2015 and more program flexibility.  Continue reading “Health IT Newser”

ACOs

One of the big questions since the inception of the Medicare Shared Savings Program has been whether the model would only work in regions with extremely high baseline costs.  Farzad’s state-level analysis of earlier MSSP results suggested that ACOs in higher-cost areas were more likely to receive shared savings. It’s one of the questions that Bob Kocher and Farzad received in the wake of the op-ed on Rio Grande Valley Health Providers last week.

So we decided to dig into the data.

We’re still waiting for CMS to make baseline costs for ACOs – and the local areas they serve – public. But in the meantime, we linked each ACO to a Hospital Referral Region using the main ACO address provided by CMS – and took a look at the region’s per capita Medicare costs as a predictor of ACO success.

Continue reading “Why ACO Savings Aren’t About Location.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 3.19.19 PM

If the federal government’s new Open Payments website were a consumer product, it would be returned to the manufacturer for a full refund.

Open Payments is the government’s site for publishing payments made to doctors and teaching hospitals by drug and medical device manufacturers. It includes 4.4 million payments, worth $3.5 billion, to more than half a million doctors and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals.

In a news release announcing the site’s launch, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the goal is “to help consumers understand the financial relationships between the health care industry, and physicians and teaching hospitals.”

Continue reading “Government’s New Doctor Payments Website Worthy of a Recall”

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 7.53.02 PMCMS recently announced another change to health IT policy in order to offer healthcare providers greater flexibility. But what will the unintended consequences of this latest change be?

Over the Labor Day weekend, CMS announced that the Meaningful Use Stage 2 deadline will be extended through 2016 in order to offer more options and greater flexibility to providers for the certified use of EHRs.  In the interest of full disclosure, I found the timing to be strange— a rule published over a holiday weekend seems an odd choice, particularly when it is being touted as a benefit to the industry and the impact on healthcare provider organizations and clinicians, alike, is monumental.

Unfortunately, I think the additional flexibility allotted by this rule is the latest example of the unintended consequences of health IT regulations.  In an effort to make things easier and give healthcare providers more leeway, they have, in fact, made the situation unnecessarily more complex.

Agility is not healthcare’s strong suit

It seems at this point, too many options, or waffling between them (for instance the new ICD-10 transition deadline), can be more crippling than stringent regulations, particularly when there is so much on the line.  Healthcare organizations don’t have the wherewithal to vacillate with implementations; they are wrestling with string-tight budgets and constantly shifting rules require large cultural and behavioral changes.  As a result, as Dr. John Halamka noted, health IT agendas are being constantly hijacked by regulatory changes, such as Meaningful Use and ICD-10.

It now seems that hospital administrative teams and physicians again must endure constantly shifting rules that they’ve been coping with for years under Meaningful Use.  As Dr. Ben Kanter, former CMIO of Palomar Health, so astutely noted “A computer system is a tool, just as a scalpel is a tool.  What if a surgeon’s scalpel changed every few weeks?  How is it possible to deliver good care if the primary tool you are using keeps changing on an irregular basis?” Continue reading “Sometimes the Best Choice is the Simplest One”

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 11.04.35 AM“Drugs don’t work in people who don’t take them.” C. Everett Koop, former US Surgeon General

Cost-based non-adherence, like any lack of medication adherence, leads to further complications and hospitalizations that could have been prevented. CMS appears to have recognized this when they announced that a new ACO measures on whether “providers have educated patients about the cost of medications” in the 2015 fee schedule.  Cost and quality conversations between doctors and patients are becoming a cornerstone to value-based care.

The most expensive drugs are the ones that the patient never takes.  Nearly one third of prescriptions go unfilled. When patients cannot afford a medication, and only discover the price or out-of-pocket cost at the prescription counter, it’s a big risk to long-term outcomes.

“It has been well established that a lack of affordability can drive a lack of adherence to a course of medications.  Patients who do not take their medications cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $300 billion in avoidable medical spending annually due to poorer health, more frequent hospitalizations and a higher risk of mortality”, according to The Center for Health Value Innovation and the Network for Health Value in Innovation.

A lack of medication adherence drives further costs for the system and suffering for patients. Estimates are that more than a third of medicine-related hospitalizations happen because people did not take medicine as directed, leading to over 125,000 deaths.

Medication non-adherence, of course, can have many reasons: side effects, difficulty in administering the drug, and others, but there is clear evidence that cost is a factor driving non-adherence. 27% of Americans did not fulfill a prescription due to financial hardship in 2012 according to a Kaiser Family Survey. As copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses go up, so, likely, will non-adherence, and value-based care, and value-based benefits must understand the costs related to non-adherence.

Continue reading “The Cost-Response Curve”

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