CMS recently issued its proposed changes to the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, which include a controversial change to the reimbursement rates for Level 2-5 evaluation and management (E/M) services and some notable changes to the Quality Payment Program.  This post highlights some key aspects of the Proposed Rule that will affect medical practices.

CMS views the Rule as one of “several proposed rules that reflect a broader Administration-wide strategy to create a healthcare system that results in better accessibility, quality, affordability, empowerment and innovation.”  Once finalized after public comment, the changes will be effective for calendar year 2019.

Notable Changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule

Consolidation of Level 2-5 E/M Visits.  Probably the most significant change proposed to the Physician Fee Schedule in 2019, and the most controversial, is the consolidation of the reimbursement rates for Level 2 through 5 E/M visits into one flat base rate for new patients and one flat base rate for established patients.  The consolidated reimbursement rate for Level 4 and 5 visits would be approximately $50-75 less for new patients; and approximately $16-32 less for established patients.  For Level 2 and 3 visits, the consolidated rate would be substantially more.  CMS has also provided for a number of potential modifiers to account for additional time spent, and visits related to certain specialties, such as oncology.

However, the proposed change has drawn significant criticism because a visit for a minor health issue (such as an earache) would be reimbursed at the same base rate as a visit for stage IV cancer.  Further, the American College of Physicians has recently stated that the proposed rate model would result in lesser reimbursement for Level 4 and 5 visits overall, even considering the new modifiers.  [https://www.acponline.org/advocacy/acp-advocate/archive/august-10-2018/proposed-changes-to-medicare-regulations-met-with-mixed-reviews].

Revised Documentation Requirements. In connection with the newly consolidated rates, CMS has proposed to streamline the documentation that physicians must provide for reimbursement for E/M visits.  The purpose of these proposals, and others which CMS says it plans to make in future years, is to allow physicians more flexibility to exercise clinical judgment in documentation.  The documentation changes:

  • Would allow physicians to document E/M visits based on medical decision-making and/or time, regardless of whether counseling or care coordination dominates the visit.
  • Would not require physicians to re-document information from prior visits, only what has changed for the patient (or what pertinent items have not changed) since the last visit.
  • Would be able to review and verify certain basic information entered into the medical record by physician extenders and other ancillary staff, instead of having to re-enter the information every time.

These revised documentation requirements are intended to lead to a lesser administrative burden on physicians, which could lead to fewer audit issues and overpayments.  In that regard, the proposal is seen by some as a trade, by which CMS relieved physicians and their practices of cumbersome documentation requirements in exchange for reduced reimbursement for level 4 and 5 E/M codes.  We expect that CMS will receive substantial commentary on these documentation and rate changes in advance of the Final Rule.

Additional Changes.  Other notable changes are as follows:

  • Medicare would pay for a virtual check-in service for which the physician would check-in with a patient by phone or other device to decide whether an office visit or other service is needed.  CMS believes that this will increase efficiency for practitioners and convenience for beneficiaries.
  • Medicare would pay for a Remote Evaluation service based on recorded video or images, so that a physician could be separately paid for reviewing a patient-transmitted photo or video to assess whether a visit is needed.
  • CMS will implement updated medical supply and equipment prices for purposes of determining the practice expense portion of its reimbursement rates.  The rates for supplies and equipment used in their payment formula had not been updated since 2005.  Based on a study conducted by a contractor, CMS will implement the new rates over a 4-year period beginning in 2019.
  • CMS plans to increase the overall reimbursement rate per RVU by $0.06.

Changes to the Quality Payment Program

Beginning with the 2019 calendar year, physicians and practices will be paid under Medicare Part B based on the standard rate for reimbursement for the service, plus or minus a bonus or penalty calculated on their performance under the Quality Payment Program during the 2017 calendar year.  For more information on the Quality Payment Program, please see our prior blog post here: https://physicianlaw.foxrothschild.com/2016/12/articles/medicare/are-you-ready-for-the-new-medicare-quality-payment-program-part-2-basics-of-the-mips-and-how-to-qualify-in-2017/.

In the face of doubts regarding the future of the Quality Payment Program and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), CMS is making substantial efforts to encourage participation of physicians.   A number of changes are focused specifically on making participation easier for small practices, including applying the existing small practice bonus to the Quality category (instead of overall score) and providing for an additional small practice bonus for meeting certain quality measures.  CMS has also proposed that small practices meeting certain requirements have the ability to opt-in to the MIPS, as opposed to being required to participate.  In addition, CMS continues to remind all practices that it offers free consulting services from its technical assistance network for any physician seeking to meet the MIPS requirements.

Practices should also note that CMS has proposed to require physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and clinical psychologists enrolled in Medicare to participate in the MIPS beginning in 2019.

With respect to scoring under the MIPS, CMS proposed to remove certain quality measures which physicians have complained are of low priority in their practice.  CMS also proposed a new scoring system for the EHR Incentive Program category, and proposed to change the title of the category from “Advancing Care Information” to “Promoting Interoperability.”  The change in name reflects CMS’s emphasis on increasing accessibility of health information to patients and their providers.  The new scoring system also matches up with the newly proposed Promoting Interoperability EHR incentive program for hospitals.

Finally, CMS proposed modifying the overall scoring weights for the MIPS during 2019 as follows:

  • Quality (45%)
  • Promoting Interoperability (25%)
  • Improvement Activities (15%)
  • Cost (15%)

…and increasing the bonuses and penalties from +5%/-5% to +7%/-7%.

 

Critics of the MIPS say that efforts to minimize penalties in the hopes of encouraging participation put the entire program at risk, as the MIPS is required by law to be budget-neutral.  When the penalties are reduced, so are the bonuses.  This is probably the biggest threat to the viability of the MIPS long-term.  However, the proposed changes show that CMS is committed to making the MIPS easier to comply with, even though it is still a complicated program.  Stay tuned to Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog for an update on the Final Rule, once issued this Fall.

This is the first installment in a new series on the Physician Law Blog entitled “Small Doses” designed to provide you with quick updates on meaningful issues.  We will continue to provide you with detailed updates on significant topics which we think are worth your time to read.  The purpose of “Small Doses” is to give you just enough information regarding a topic to have a general understanding of its import in a quick, easy read.  

MedicareCMS recently updated its list of reportable final adverse actions with respect to Medicare enrollment matters.  The change became effective as of April 30, 2018.  Going forward, suppliers (such as physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners) are no longer required to report prior revocations of their Medicare enrollment to CMS, and their medical practices are no longer required to report such revocations, including with respect to owners or managing employees of the practice.

Also, Medicare payment suspensions are no longer considered to be reportable final adverse actions on Medicare enrollment forms or the PECOS system.

CMS released a short, easy-to-read Medicare Learning Network article summarizing what final adverse actions must be reported on all Medicare enrollment forms and the PECOS system.  The article is accessible at this link:  MLN Article – Reporting Adverse Actions

Of note, CMS reminds all suppliers (such as physicians and their medical practices) that all final adverse actions (including those of owners and managing employees) must be reported to CMS through the applicable Medicare enrollment form or the PECOS system, regardless of whether the action (e.g., a felony or license suspension) has been expunged from a criminal record or is pending appeal in front of a court or agency.

Last month, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced several initiatives to innovate the delivery of patient care at the ground level.  In collaboration with the Trump Administration and other federal agencies, CMS is taking steps to implement a system in which patients have control of their electronic health information and can easily transfer it between health care providers.  This system, referred to as “MyHealthEData,” is also intended to allow both physician and patient to access the clinical and payment data required to make the best healthcare decisions at the point of care.

Doctor using tablet to view electronic medical recordAs announced, CMS’s short-term efforts in connection with the MyHealthEData initiative include:

  • Launching Medicare’s Blue Button 2.0, which will allow a patient to access and share his/her healthcare information and medical history with a new physician, leading to less duplication in testing and enabling continuity of care.
  • Requiring providers to update their systems to improve data sharing.
  • Requiring hospitals to share specific types of data with a patient’s receiving facility or post-acute care provider following discharge.
  • Streamlining documentation and billing requirements for E&M codes to allow doctors to spend more time with their patients.
  • Reducing the incidence of unnecessary and duplicative testing that occurs as a result of providers not sharing data.

CMS is also taking steps to overhaul the EHR incentive programs (including the Advancing Care Information category of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the EHR Incentive Programs for Hospitals) to prioritize interoperability of EHR systems, reduce the time and costs required to comply, and prevent providers from withholding healthcare data from patients.

For more information on the MIPS and the Quality Payment Program, please see our prior post here and CMS’s interactive website on the Quality Payment Program here.

For more information on the MyHealthEData Initiative, please see CMS’s published Fact Sheet.  Stay tuned to Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog for updates.

CMS recently issued an Advisory Opinion suggesting that physicians who refer diagnostic tests reimbursable under Medicare to a laboratory may, under certain circumstances, receive electronic pop-up notifications in the laboratory’s web-based portal alerting the physicians to various potential issues related to the test results.  In the Advisory Opinion, CMS considered certain alerts which a laboratory proposed to provide to its referring physicians without charge via the laboratory’s web-based portal.  The entire Advisory Opinion can be read here.

In short, CMS concluded that the alerts proposed by the laboratory, which would be limited to issues relating to the test results, would not constitute illegal remuneration under the federal Stark law, as long as (1) the alerts are provided solely in connection with the ordering or communication of diagnostic test results from the laboratory, and (2) appropriate safeguards are in place to avoid overutilization or medically unnecessary testing.

Some of the key safeguards that CMS found persuasive included the following:

  • Alerts recommending additional testing would be based on industry-standard, peer-reviewed guidelines;
  • The alerts would not be “overly intrusive” and would not override the physician’s independent medical judgment;
  • Where multiple additional tests would be recommended in an alert, there would be no “select all” button for the physician to click to order all of the tests together;
  • The physician could turn off the alerts for a particular disease condition; and
  • The physician could obtain the information provided in the alerts free of charge from other sources.

An advisory opinion from CMS is a rare occurrence, in comparison to advisory opinions issued by the Office of Inspector General regarding the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which occur a number of times each year.  This is the first and only advisory opinion issued by CMS in 2017.  To that end, CMS likely considers this Opinion to be useful guidance to physicians and providers regarding their use of online web portals to order diagnostic tests.

If you or your practice has any questions regarding alerts or other benefits you may receive via a laboratory’s online web portal, please consult experienced legal counsel.

[For more information on CMS’s new Quality Payment Program and what physicians need to report in 2017, please see our prior blog posts here and here.]

CMS recently issued guidance (accessible here) on the three-part “Prevention of Information Blocking” attestation which physicians and other eligible clinicians will need to submit to CMS in order to qualify for points under the “Advancing Care Information” category of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

Although making this attestation and reporting to CMS regarding use of certified EHR technology (CEHRT) is not required to avoid a penalty under the MIPS for 2017, many physicians and group practices wish to report as much as they reasonably can to seek a high score under the MIPS and a positive payment adjustment to their Medicare reimbursements in 2019.

The three-part attestation centers on the representation that the physician/group practice will not knowingly and willfully limit or restrict the compatibility or interoperability of its CEHRT.  CMS’s guidance makes clear that physicians and group practices making the attestation must use good faith and reasonable efforts to enable the exchange of electronic health records between appropriate parties.

According to CMS, examples of situations where access to CEHRT could be reasonably restricted include:

  1. System Maintenance — Disabling CEHRT for as long as reasonably necessary to complete system maintenance, provided that requests for access to EHR information during such time period are responded to when practical;
  2. Security Concerns — Blocking access to CEHRT when reasonably necessary to ensure the security of EHR information, provided that the blocking was narrowly tailored to the bona fide threat; and
  3. Patient’s Health and Well-Being — Restricting access to certain information (such as a patient’s sensitive test results), if the clinician reasonably believes that the restriction is necessary to protect the patient’s health or well-being. In the case of sensitive test results, CMS suggests that restricting access to the results could be reasonable until the physician or clinician who ordered the test has reviewed and appropriately communicated the results to the patient.

CMS expects that physicians and group practices making the attestation will ensure that their organizational policies and workflows will not restrict functionality of the CEHRT in any way, and that they will work with their CEHRT vendors to ensure that the CEHRT is fully functional.

If you or your practice will be reporting EHR data to CMS under the MIPS for 2017, a full review of CMS’s guidance on the attestation is recommended (see the five-page guidance here).  All physicians and practices reporting EHR data under the MIPS have until March 31, 2018 to report the data and make the attestation.

Under CMS’s new Quality Payment Program, which will adjust Medicare Part B payments starting in 2019 based on data from this year, physicians and other eligible clinicians must qualify for one of two payment “tracks”, either the Merit-Based Incentive System (MIPS) or the Advanced Alternative Payment Model (Advanced APM) track.   A physician who qualifies under the MIPS in 2017 can earn up to a 4% payment adjustment to Medicare Part B payments in 2019.  Physicians who qualify under the Advanced APM track can earn up to a 5% payment adjustment in 2019.  For more information on the Quality Payment Program and the MIPS, please see our prior blog post on the topic here.

Since the Quality Payment Program went into effect on January 1, 2017, it has been unclear whether physicians participating in an Advanced APM in 2017 would be able to meet CMS’ quality and reporting requirements and earn a 5% payment adjustment to their Medicare Part B claims in 2019.

CMS recently provided clarity on this issue by predicting that almost 100% of physicians and other eligible clinicians participating in Advanced APMs in 2017 will qualify for a 5% payment adjustment to their Medicare Part B claims in 2019.  CMS based this prediction on an analysis of Advanced APM claims data submitted from January through August 2016 (before the Quality Payment Program went into effect).

CMS also stated that physicians who participate in an Advanced APM need to meet only one of two criteria to earn the 5% payment adjustment in 2019:  (1) receive 25% of the physician’s Medicare Part B payments through the Advanced APM; or (2) see 20% of the physician’s Medicare patients through the Advanced APM.  [A list of Advanced APMs in which a physician may participate in 2017 can be found at the following link: CMS List of Advanced APMs]

Participating in an Advanced APM can have several benefits (including being exempt from reporting quality data under the MIPS payment track), but also involves taking on some risk.  If you are considering participation in an Advanced APM, please contact an experienced attorney to discuss.

CMS is expected to issue formal determinations regarding the qualification of particular physicians for the Advanced APM track later this year.  Stay tuned to Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog for updates.

On June 20, 2017, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a proposed rule which would exempt a greater number of small practices from complying with the  Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (“MACRA”).

CMS’s Administrator, Seema Verma has been quoted as saying that CMS has “heard the concerns that too many quality programs, technology requirements and measures get between the doctor and the patient. . . That’s why we’re taking a hard look at reducing burdens. ”

In order to accomplish this goal, CMS proposes to now exempt physician practices with less than $90,000 in Medicare revenue or physicians with fewer than 200 unique Medicare patients.  The current rule only exempts physician practices that have less than $30,000 in Medicare revenue or fewer than 100 unique Medicare patients.  This proposed rule could mean another 834,000 clinicians could be exempt from the quality reporting under MACRA.

While this seems like a large increase in the number of physicians that are exempt, a recent Modern Healthcare article notes that “65% of Medicare payments would still be reported under methods that adhere to MACRA even if this draft rule were finalized.”

If you are interested in commenting on the proposed rule you may do so through August 30, 2017.  The proposed rule can be found at the following website: Proposed Rule.

If you would like more information about MACRA please see the Fox Rothschild Health Law Alert – Medicare Quality Payment Program from January 2017.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 requires Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to remove Social Security Numbers (“SSNs”) from all Medicare cards. Physicians currently use a SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (“HICN”) for Medicare transactions like billing, eligibility status, and claim status. Starting April 1, 2018, CMS will begin mailing new cards with a randomly assigned Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (“MBI”) to replace the existing HICN. All Medicare cards will be replaced by April 1, 2019, affecting approximately 57.7 million beneficiaries.

The initiative is intended to better protect private health care and financial information; however, many physicians are unclear as to their responsibilities to ensure that billing privileges aren’t affected.  Although CMS has designated the time period running from April 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019 as a transition period, during which physicians may use either the HICN or MBI in Medicare transactions, physician systems must be able to accept the new MBI format by April 1, 2018, which is the beginning of the transition period.

Earlier this month, CMS released a five-point bulletin on steps physicians can take to prepare for the change. CMS advises physicians to do the following:

  • Go to CMS’ provider website and sign up for the weekly MLN Connects newsletter;
  • Attend CMS’ quarterly calls to get more information;
  • Verify all Medicare patients’ addresses. If the addresses on file are different than the Medicare addresses on electronic eligibility transactions, ask patients to contact Social Security and update their Medicare records;
  • Work with CMS to help patients adjust to their new Medicare cards. When available later this fall, display helpful information about the new Medicare cards; and
  • Test system changes and work with billing office staff to be sure the office is ready to use the new MBI format.

As many people are discussing methods to improve healthcare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is giving stakeholders an opportunity to send in their thoughts on this topic.  In CMS’s April 14, 2017 proposed rule, CMS issued a “Request for Information” (“RFI”), where they described their desire to have a “national conversation” about improving the health care delivery system.

CMS would like to know, amongst other ideas: (1) How CMS can help make its healthcare delivery system (Medicare) less bureaucratic and complex; and (2) How CMS can reduce the burden on clinicians, providers and patients in a manner that increases quality of care and decreases costs.  “CMS is soliciting ideas for regulatory, sub-regulatory, policy, practice and procedural changes to better accomplish these goals.”

Per CMS, some ideas could include recommendations regarding payment system re-designs; elimination or streamlining of reporting; monitoring and documentation requirements; and operational flexibility; amongst others.  CMS is also looking for ideas on how CMS issues regulations and policies, and how these could be simplified.

In a separate RFI in the same proposed rule, CMS also seeks information on how the scope and restrictions imposed on “Physician-Owned Hospitals” affect the delivery system, particularly with regards to Medicare beneficiaries.

To the extent respondents have data and specific examples, CMS requests such information be included in the submission.  If a proposal involves novel legal questions, CMS is also welcoming analysis regarding CMS’ authority.

If you wish to submit your comments to CMS, you have until June 13, 2017 to do so.

For more information please see the CMS Fact Sheet for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and Long Term Acute Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule, and Request for Information CMS-1677-P.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) recently introduced a new education initiative for Chronic Care Management (“CCM”) patients and providers. The initiative, called Connected Care, is intended to raise awareness of the benefits of providing CCM services to Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions and to help ensure that health care providers are receiving optimal reimbursement for providing such services.

CMS has stated that two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more chronic conditions, and one-third have four or more chronic conditions. CMS recognizes CCM as a critical component to primary care that contributes to better quality health care at reduced cost. However, many CCM providers are not aware that the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule allows separate payments for CCM services such as telephone communication, review of medical records and test results, and coordination and exchange of health information with other providers. CCM also includes activities such as patient education or motivational counseling, which are provided either in person or by telephone. Physicians, certified nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants may bill for CCM services.

Specifically, CPT Code 99490 has been available since 2015 for eligible providers to bill for at least 20 minutes of clinical staff time directed by a physician each month to coordinate care for beneficiaries who have two or more serious chronic conditions expected to last at least 12 months. Effective January 1, 2017, CMS expanded the CCM billing codes to account for more complex and time-consuming care coordination:

  • HCPCS Code G0506 is an add-on code to the CCM initiating visit for providing a comprehensive assessment and care planning to patients;
  • CPT Code 99487 is for complex CCM that requires substantial revision of a care plan, moderate or high complexity medical decision making, and 60 minutes of clinical staff time;
  • CPT Code 99489 is a complex CCM add-on code for each additional 30 minutes of clinical staff time.

CMS’ Connected Care program provides the following educational materials for CCM services:

If you have questions regarding billing for CCM services, please contact a knowledgeable and experienced healthcare attorney.