The Medicare incentive programs with which you and your medical practice are familiar will soon be no more.  As of January 1, 2017, these programs (including the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Meaningful Use Incentive Program, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), and the Physician Value-Based Modifier Program) will morph into the new Medicare Quality Payment Program (QPP).   The QPP will also include a fourth category of incentives entitled “Clinical Practice Improvement Activities”, which we discuss in more detail below.

The purpose of the QPP is to create one central program that will govern Medicare Part B payments to physicians, while incentivizing physicians to increase quality of care and decrease inefficiencies in the cost of care for Medicare patients.  Participation in the QPP will be mandatory beginning January 1, 2017.  The QPP will either reward or penalize physicians and their practices by adjusting their reimbursement rates under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule two (2) years after the reporting year.  Therefore, physicians/practices will have their reimbursement rates adjusted in 2019 based on their reporting data for the year 2017.

As we noted in our first blog post in the Series, accessible here, physicians will have the option to choose between two payment tracks under the QPP:  (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS); and (2) an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (Advanced APM).  This blog post will discuss the basics of the MIPS and how to qualify for the MIPS in 2017, while our next post will touch on the basics of participation in Advanced APMs.

Basics of the MIPS

Each physician or group practice (you may report individually or as a group) participating in the MIPS in 2017 will earn a “composite performance score” based on the physician/group’s scores within the following four (4) categories:

  1. Quality of Care – 60%
    • Explanation: Scored based on the reporting of “quality measures”, which will be published annually by CMS.  Physicians will be able to choose which quality measures they will report each year.
    • Replaces: PQRS and quality component of the Value-Based Modifier.
  2. Advancing Care Information – 25%
    • Explanation: Scored based on the reporting of EHR use-related measures with which you are familiar from the current EHR Meaningful Use Incentive Program.  However, unlike the existing program, the QPP measures will not have “all-or-nothing” targets.
    • Replaces: EHR Meaningful Use Program.
  3. Clinical Practice Improvement Activities – 15%
    • Explanation: Scored based on attestation by the physician/group that the physician/group has performed certain care coordination, beneficiary engagement, population management and patient safety activities.
    • Replaces:   New Program.
  4. Resource Use – 0%
    • Explanation: Scored based on per capita patient costs and episode-based measures.  CMS collects and analyzes the data from your claims submissions.  No additional reporting will be required.
    • Replaces: Cost component of the Value-Based Modifier.

How to Qualify for 2017

CMS has eased the reporting requirements for the first year of the QPP.  No physician/group will be required to begin collecting data in accordance with the QPP’s requirements on January 1, 2017 (but may elect to do so).  To receive a neutral or positive payment adjustment, physicians/groups will need to report data for only a 90-day performance period during the year.  There are also minimum threshold reporting requirements to avoid a negative payment adjustment and full participation requirements which are more likely to result in a guaranteed positive adjustment.  The table below organizes the requirements in an easy-to-read format:

MIPS Measures Chart

Final Thoughts on Qualifying for the MIPS in 2017

  • Get involved sooner rather than later. CMS has kept reporting requirements minimal in 2017 in order to encourage clinicians to participate in the QPP.  Take advantage of that opportunity to ensure your practice has the right software to report the quality and EHR use-related measures.  Since adjustments will be made based on threshold scores, it may be easier in 2017 to earn a positive adjustment, and even an exceptional bonus, than in later years.
  • Ensure that your current EHR technology meets the requirements for the QPP in 2017, including reporting capabilities for quality measures and EHR use-related measures. The easiest way to do this is to contact your EHR vendor.
  • CMS has given providers plenty of time to report 2017 data. The deadline for reporting 2017 data is March 31, 2018.

As always, if you have questions specific to your practice, please contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.

You may have heard that a transformation of Medicare’s physician payment program is in the works.  However, you may not know that the structure of the new program, called the “Quality Payment Program”, has been finalized and will begin its first reporting year on January 1, 2017.  Now is the time for you and your practice to get up to speed on the new Quality Payment Program.  This post is the first in a new Blog Series that we will be publishing on Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog to help you and your practice prepare for Medicare’s Quality Payment Program.

In October, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Final Rule setting forth the structure of the Quality Payment Program and the parameters for its first year of operation.  The purpose of the Quality Payment Program is to create one central program that will govern Medicare Part B payments to physicians, while incentivizing physicians to increase quality of care and decrease inefficiencies in the cost of care for Medicare patients.  The Quality Payment Program will consolidate the existing Medicare incentive programs (which include the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Meaningful Use Incentive Program, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), and the Physician Value-Based Modifier Program), along with a new program incentivizing clinical improvement activities, into a single payment program that will either reward or penalize physicians by adjusting their reimbursement rates under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

In each reporting year under the Program, physicians will be required to qualify for one of two (2) payment tracks:  (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS); or (2) the Advanced Alternate Payment Model (Advanced APM) model.  The MIPS is the default payment track, and will be the track used by most physicians over the next five years.  Qualification for the Advanced APM model requires participation in a CMS-approved Advanced APM.  The long-term goal of CMS is for most physicians and practices to participate in Advanced APMs.

While calendar year 2017 will be the first reporting year under the Quality Payment Program, payment adjustments for physician performance in 2017 will not be made until the 2019 calendar year.  This two-year gap between reporting and payment adjustment has been carried over from the existing incentive programs and may eventually be shortened.  However, for now, the gap will allow a smoother transition from Medicare existing incentive programs, which have collected data over the last two years for incentive payments in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  To be clear, incentive payments based on data reported under existing incentive programs in 2015 and 2016 will still be made.

The good news is that CMS has eased the reporting requirements for the first year of the Program.  For example, no physician will be required to begin collecting data in accordance with the Program’s requirements on January 1, 2017.  To receive a neutral or positive adjustment to reimbursements in 2019, physicians will need to report data and perform certain practice activities for a 90-day performance period during the year.

Stay tuned to the Physician Law Blog for upcoming posts on what you and your practice need to know about the Quality Payment Program (QPP).  The next posts in the QPP Blog Series will be:

  1. Basics of the MIPS and How to Qualify in 2017
  2. Basics of Advanced APMs and How to Qualify in 2017
  3. Details of the MIPS Scoring System

In the interim, if you would like to learn more about the QPP, we encourage you to check out the excellent website CMS has developed on the QPP, which can be found at this link:  https://qpp.cms.gov

As always, if you have questions regarding the applicability of the QPP to you and your practice, we advise you to consult with a knowledgeable attorney.

The long-anticipated implementation of ICD-10 coding finally began this past Thursday, October 1, 2015.  As of that date, government and commercial payors ceased to accept claims under the old coding system (ICD-9).  The transition has been five years in the making due to a government delay in 2012.

The new system has five times the codes of the prior system, including everything from “problems in relationship with in-laws” to “pedestrian injured in collision with roller skater” to “burn due to water-skis on fire”.  The hope is that the breadth and detail of the new codes will provide greater accuracy and increase reimbursement rates.  However, the complexity of ICD-10 could also cause substantial delays in reimbursement from both the provider side and the insurer side.  While CMS and other insurers are committed to ensuring that the implementation of the new system is completed, it is up to each provider to prepare for and manage the transition in their own practice.

Here are a few tips for your practice during the transition:

  • Mitigate the risk of longer-than-expected reimbursement times by setting aside a reserve fund to cover interim operating expenses, such as payroll, in the event of a one to two week delay in reimbursement during the next few months.
  • Whenever your staff has specific claims questions, contact the appropriate payor sooner rather than later.
  • If you haven’t already, consult your practice management and EHR software vendors to find out how they recommend using their technology with the new coding system.
  • In an effort to speed up the learning curve, consider asking your billing and coding staff to dual code a few charts each day.  This will give them additional opportunities to train, while reducing the need for extra training sessions down the line.

You may have heard some years ago that the Affordable Care Act established a “60-day overpayment rule” that requires a provider to report and return any overpayment from a federal health care program (such as Medicare or Medicaid) within 60 days of “the date on which the overpayment was identified” by the provider (for certain institutional providers, the overpayment must be returned by the later of 60 days or the date on which a corresponding cost report is due to the applicable federal health care program).   Failure to return the overpayment within the required time period (60 days for physician practices) subjects the provider to liability under the False Claims Act and a fine of up to $11,000 per claim plus treble damages.

In an effort to clarify the rule, in 2012, CMS proposed that a provider has “identified” an overpayment when the provider has either “actual knowledge of the existence of the overpayment” or acted in “reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance of the overpayment”.  77 Fed. Reg. 9179, 9182-83.  However, CMS received so much negative feedback regarding its proposed interpretation of the rule that it decided to delay final guidance until 2016.  In the interim, the first court to review the 60-day overpayment rule has had an opportunity to give its opinion.

 

The Court’s Decision

In U.S. ex rel. Kane v. Continuum Health Partners, Inc., the U.S. Department of Justice, along with an ex-employee whistleblower, brought suit against Continuum Health Partners, Inc. on the grounds that Continuum failed to report and return over 900 Medicaid overpayments within 60 days of identification.   The government argued that Continuum “identified” the overpayments when the ex-employee (who was charged with investigating a software glitch in the billing system) emailed a spreadsheet of over 900 potential Medicaid overpayments to upper management of Continuum.   Continuum argued that it should not have been responsible to report or return the overpayments until it determined the precise amounts of the overpayments.

The Court sided with the federal government, denying Continuum’s motion to dismiss the case.  The Court held that Continuum “identified” the overpayments for purposes of the 60-day overpayment rule when Continuum was put on notice that the overpayments were likely to exist.  The Court explained that the spreadsheet provided by the whistleblower did not need to “conclusively establish each erroneous claim” and it did not need to “provide the specific amount owed” in order to put Continuum on notice of each overpayment, and thereby start the 60-day reporting clock.

 

What The Case Means for Providers

The Court’s decision in Continuum is not the last word on this issue.  The Court left open what it means to be “put on notice” that an overpayment is likely to exist.  Also, as noted, CMS may issue new guidance on the rule next year.  Nonetheless, the decision can provide useful guidance for providers who have discovered a potential overpayment and want to know how to comply with the rule.

The Court explained that a provider has a duty to investigate and report an overpayment within 60 days after the provider has been put on notice that the overpayment is likely to exist.  The Court also noted that a provider should not be liable under the False Claims Act for failing to return an overpayment within 60 days, if the provider (i) has reported the overpayment, (ii) is diligently investigating it, and (iii) does not intend to withhold repayment once the proper amount has been established.

In sum, the main message of the Court’s opinion is to Take Action and Report the Overpayment.  If you discover a potential overpayment, begin investigation in a reasonable timeframe.  If you are unable to determine whether the claim actually resulted in an overpayment within the 60-day time period, err on the side of caution by reporting and returning the potential overpayment.  If the overpayment(s) are substantial in amount, you may consider withholding repayment; however, be sure to report to CMS (or the applicable federal health program administrator) as much information regarding the claim as possible, including your intention to return each overpayment once the amount to be repaid is established.

Finally, before taking any action, be sure to consult your legal counsel regarding the best options for you and your practice.

You may have heard that CMS recently expanded its authority to deny enrollment and revoke the Medicare billing privileges of providers and suppliers.  The new changes could affect any physician, group practice or other Medicare provider or supplier.  As the changes are wide reaching, all Medicare providers and suppliers, and anyone providing support services for such providers or suppliers (such as billing companies or administrative staff), should be knowledgeable about CMS’ expanded authority.

Some important changes include:

  • CMS may deny the enrollment of a new provider or supplier if one of its owners previously owned a Medicare billing entity that (1) has had its billing privileges terminated or revoked, and (2) continues to have overpayments or other Medicare debt.
  • CMS may deny the enrollment, or revoke the billing privileges, of a provider or supplier if the provider/supplier, or an owner or managing employee of the provider or supplier, has been convicted within the last 10 years of any state or federal felony which CMS determines is detrimental to the best interests of the Medicare program and its beneficiaries.
  • CMS may revoke the billing privileges of any provider or supplier which CMS determines has engaged in a “pattern or practice of billing for services that do not meet Medicare requirements”.

I co-authored two articles on the new regulations that provide providers and suppliers (as well as billing companies) with what they need to know about the important changes.  One of the articles was the Cover Article for the May/June 2015 Issue of BC Advantage Magazine (available in print and accessible online for those individuals having a login to the BC Advantage website at: http://www.billing-coding.com/detail_article.cfm?ArticleID=5310).

The other article was published in Physicians News Digest (accessible to the public online at the following link:  http://physiciansnews.com/2015/04/16/physicians-beware-cms-may-deny-or-revoke-medicare-provider-privileges/).

The new regulations took effect on February 3, 2015.

Now that the new year is upon us, today’s post will look at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG), in particular, OIG’s priorities for 2013.   According to OIG’s Fiscal Year 2013 Work Plan, it will be focusing upon a number of topics of interest – including some items not addressed last year.

OIG’s planned reviews of Medicare Part A and Part B will include:

● Billing patterns for nursing home stays.

● Accreditation of medical equipment suppliers, with a particular focus on quality standards.

● Claims submitted by medical equipment suppliers for lower limb prosthetics, power mobility devices and vacuum erection systems.

● Replacement of medical equipment, especially the frequency and necessity of that replacement.

● Independent physical therapists’ claims and whether the claims are reasonable, medically necessary and properly documented.

● Billing for electrodiagnostic testing.

● Ensuring that payments are not made for alien beneficiaries who were unlawfully present in the United States.

● Reviewing payments for Part A and Part B services to avoid claims starting after a beneficiary has died. 

 

Special attention should be paid to these areas in the coming year given OIG’s additional scrutiny.

 

If you’re not sure what your managed care payers want from you, maybe you need to tell them. Many physicians are (understandably) complacent about taking an active role in defining in their payer relationships. Not surprisingly, managed care payers have had very little incentive or ability to negotiate special arrangements with a diverse and disintegrated physician practice marketplace. However, as the marketplace consolidates, larger independent physician practices may have an opportunity to begin to define in their payer relationships.

Many physicians believe that insurance companies have exclusive access to the data necessary to define the specific cost controls and quality measures they will demand from the physician marketplace. In fact, while payers have historically had access to more utilization and quality data than the physician practices, with the implementation of electronic medical records and sophisticated IT systems, larger practices now have access to key data with which to define their quality, cost and utilization data. Very often when I talk to physicians about negotiating their managed care arrangements, they say that they don’t know what their payers are looking for. Consider, however, that this may be because the payers themselves don’t know what they are looking for.
 

Continue Reading Take an Active Role in Defining Your Payer Relationships

According to a a major study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this week, almost half of physicians surveyed (over 7,000 physicians were surveyed), reported at least one symptom of burnout.  As a recent article in the Atlantic points out, although physician burnout may not be news to most physicians who are living with the realities of shrinking reimbursements, growing costs and increasing administrative burdens, the general public may not have a real understanding of what this means for them.  Given the financial and time investment required to become a physician, the health care reform debate likely scared a lot of folks away from attending medical school already. 

For the public, fewer physicians surely means less access to care.  More people may have insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act but insurance coverage will do little to address the impending access problem.  Interestingly enough, however, this shortage is likely to have a silver lining for physicians who choose to stay in practice:  short supply means higher demand and higher demand is likely to mean increased reimbursement.  In other words, those hearty souls who elect to continue to brave the storm of medical practice over the next couple of years will likely be able to demand higher reimbursement rates for their services.  In fact, some doctors may find that patients are willing to pay cash to avoid waiting for care.  Stay tuned – the pendulum may be swinging back before you know it.

 

 

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision of interest to physicians and teaching hospitals. It concerns the method of rotating teaching physicians between multiple surgeries and billing Medicare for those services.  

The case involves so-called "qui tam" claims (essentially, a whistleblower case) against a teaching hospital, by which a successful claimant gets to keep a portion of the penalties recovered.  Basically, the Medicare program pays teaching hospitals for work by residents that is supervised by teaching physicians.  Here, however, a hospital was alleged to have made its teaching physicians simultaneously supervise multiple surgeries — and then submit fee-for-service bills to the Medicare program for certain unsupervised work.  

 

After addressing legal issues concerning claimants’ right to sue when the facts were generally in the public domain by way of government reports (those reports were not specific to this hospital), the suit was allowed to continue for now.  

Note to physicians: The Court emphasized that a teaching hospital does nothing wrong if the teaching physicians are "immediately available" during all parts of the surgeries even if making a circuit between multiple operating theaters.  The breadth of that holding, and whether it would apply to other circumstances, is not clear.  Nevertheless, hospitals who bill Medicare for activities supervised by teaching physicians, and the physicians themselves, must pay special attention to these activities to stay within the law.