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Tag: SGR Fix

SGR Appeal: Fixing the Present, Setting a Foundation for the Future

Farzad MostashariLast week, I was riveted to the deliberations on the Senate floor, as the fate of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA – so far, more commonly called the “SGR fix”) was decided. One amendment after another failed to pass; the legislation ultimately passed by a vote of 92-8, and was signed into law shortly thereafter.

To date, much of the coverage of MACRA has focused on how it has fixed the “doc pay” problems of the last 18 years – rescuing us from a yearly round of negotiations about how to temporary avoid painful cuts in Medicare’s physician reimbursement rates.

It’s true that MACRA wiped out (and only partially paid for) the accumulated burden of postponed pay cuts. But it also took a huge step in ending the volume-based “fee-for service” payment system that the pay cuts were trying to restrain in the first place. In a volume-based health care world, the only way for the government and other payers to control runaway medical inflation is to make it harder for doctors to get paid (through rejected claims, paperwork, and prior authorizations), and to reduce the price they pay for each office visit, test, or medical procedure. Providers, paid less and less for each visit and service, can try to maintain their income by further increasing volume — seeing more and more patients in less and less time — or routing patients through increasingly questionable services, tests, and procedures. That is the dysfunctional state of US health care today, with patients caught in the middle of the arms race between those who pay the bills, and those who bill them– collateral damage.Continue reading…

Spring Deliveries from Washington

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 9.22.36 PMIt may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but not in Washington DC.  Last week, we saw the introduction of two congressional bills here (SGR fix) and here (EHR interoperability) and two proposed rules from HHS (one from CMS and one from ONC) – all of which would have substantive impact on health care in the US, and the role of information technology in how health is optimized and care is delivered.  While the iron’s still hot, let’s take a 30,000-foot view at all of this.   I’ll follow up later in the week with a more detailed overview of the ONC and CMS proposed rules with a bit more of an editorial voice on the SGR fix and Burgess’ interoperability bill.

  1. The first document to land – way back on March 10th – was the bill from Representative Burgess.

Some context: he’s a physician.  He understands the physician perspective – and is – like many physicians – confused by the paradox that several years and $20B after the passage of HITECH – we don’t have plug-and-play interoperability between health IT systems yet.  He might be asking: “isn’t this what was supposed to happen by now?”  Compelled by his training as a physician and (as my wife would argue) a human with a Y chromosome, Rep Burgess sees a problem and wants to fix it – hence this legislation.  HHS didn’t fix this?  Industry didn’t fix it?  Well, then, let’s see if Congress can fix it!  What’s the approach?

  1. The bill attempts to redefine interoperability as:

“open access”

“complete access”

and

“does not block access.”

Continue reading…

Unpacking the Doc Fix

If you blinked on Thursday, you might’ve missed the House passing the latest Medicare’doc fix’ (see here for its 30-seconds of deliberation).

After posting the bill in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, House leaders faced opposition over its stop-gap approach and some of the cuts employed to offset the cost of the bill. With some arm-twisting, they managed to suppress objections for the handful of seconds necessary to hammer the gavel and call it done.

The Senate is due to take the bill up Monday evening, and it is highly likely to pass (this time it should actually get a vote). Since it is about to become the law of the land, let’s take a look at what’s inside. There’s a little slice of fun in here for everyone.

First and, theoretically, foremost, the bill blocks the pending cuts to doctors under the long-broken Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR)  formula. It would maintain existing physician pay rates for another twelve months, through March 31, 2015.

Not coincidentally, a vote to raise the debt limit will likely come due again at about that time.

Second, the bill continues, for a comparable period, the package of so-called Medicare extenders: a hodge podge of policies that boost payments in rural areas, suspend caps on certain benefits and other otherwise sunsetting policies that each have their niche constituencies. Many of these items have been reauthorized by Congress for over 15 years.

Third, the bill includes some new policies that put out fires of their own, or effectuate high priority programs for well-placed Members of Congress. These include:

  • An additional six month extension of the Two Midnights Rule, which drew a bright line distinction between presumptive inpatient and outpatient hospital stays but has created significant confusion and objections among many hospitals;
  • A one-year delay of ICD-10 implementation, to October 1, 2015 (this is the second time Congress has acted to delay ICD-10);
  • Elimination of the ACA cap on deductibles for employer-sponsored health plans; and
  • Two provisions aiming to improve mental health services, including the Excellence in Mental Health Act that, among other things, improves funding for community mental health centers.

Woah, some of you are saying. Dial back to that 2nd bullet. While the transition to ICD-10 has been controversial since it was first proposed in 2005, just last month CMS Administrator Tavenner said there would be no more delays (last year, the Administration voluntarily delayed the program from 2013 to 2014).

Healthcare providers have been battening down the hatches and preparing for this colossal transition from ICD-9 and its 14,000 codes to ICD-10 and its 69,000. Word on the street is that the provision was included primarily to earn cred with specialty physician groups, whose support for the bill was in question for concern about other provisions (see the bullet re: misvalued – aka overvalued – codes below).

Turns out, the specialty doc associations by and large opposed the bill anyway, and the healthcare sector is now left grappling with this unexpected turn.

Continue reading…

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