CMS pitches ramped up oversight of Medicaid payments, promises block grant guidance

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/cms-pitches-ramped-up-oversight-of-medicaid-payments-promises-block-grant/567135/

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UPDATE: Nov. 13, 2019: This brief has been updated to include comments from provider groups.

Dive Brief:

  • CMS proposed a new rule Tuesday that would establish stricter requirements for states to report information on supplemental Medicaid payments to providers in a bid to clamp down on spending and promote transparency.
  • The agency will also soon release guidance on how states can test alternative financing approaches in the safety net program like block grant and per-capita cap proposals for “certain optional adult populations,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said Tuesday at the National Association of Medicaid Director’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
  • Later this year, CMS will also issue guidance on how states can promote value-based payments and social determinants of health factors in Medicaid, Verma said. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is currently developing several new payment models to push providers to take on more risk for their patient populations in those programs.

Dive Insight:

The moves are in line with sweeping changes from the Trump administration moving more power to the states and asking more from recipients. The CMS administrator teased late last month the agency would soon release new guidance for states to inject flexibility into their Medicaid programs.

“We shouldn’t ration care but instead make how we pay for care more rational,” Verma said Tuesday. “Medicaid must move toward value-based care.”

Speaking to the Medicaid directors Tuesday, Verma said the changes are aimed preserving Medicaid for future generations.

“Going forward there will be no new [State Innovation Model] grants, no more open-ended one-off district waivers,” she said. “We must move forward with a more unified, cohesive approach across payers, across CMS, across states.”

The proposed rule, called Medicaid Fiscal Accountability (MFAR), will add more scrutiny to supplemental payments, which are Medicaid payments to providers in addition to medical services rendered to Medicaid beneficiaries, such as payments supporting quality initiatives or bolstering rural or safety net providers.

Some states rely heavily on these additional payments to offset low Medicaid reimbursement or support struggling hospitals. Provider lobbies did not take kindly to the new rule.

“We share the government’s desire to protect patients and taxpayers with transparency in federal programs, but today’s proposal oversteps this goal with deeply damaging policies that would harm the healthcare safety net and erode state flexibility,” Beth Fledpush, SVP of policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals, said in a statement.

AEH, which includes more than 300 member hospital and health systems, many of which are safety net providers, asked CMS to withdraw the proposal. The American Hospital Association told Healthcare Dive it was still reviewing the rule and declined comment.

However, government oversight agencies like the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Inspector General have recommended changes to these payments, which have increased from 9.4% of Medicaid payments in 2010 to 17.5% in 2017, according to CMS.

MFAR would also propose new definitions for “base” and “supplemental” payments in order to better enforce statutory requirements around and eliminate vulnerabilities in program spending.

Verma has long teased CMS support of block grants, an idea popular with conservatives, but Tuesday’s speech solidifies the agency’s support of such proposals. A handful of red states have been mulling over capped spending to gain more clarity around budgets.

In September, Tennessee unveiled its plan to move to a block grant system that would set a floor for federal contributions adjusted on a per capita basis if enrollment grows. Any savings would be shared between the state and the government.

Tennessee must submit a formal application to CMS to later than Nov. 20. If approved, it would become the first state to use a block grant funding mechanism in Medicaid. Additionally, Utah submitted a waiver application seeking per-capita Medicaid caps in June; Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, is reportedly considering such a program; and Alaska and Texas have both commissioned block grant studies.

 

 

 

CMS retains 340B, site-neutral payment cuts in final hospital payment rule

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/cms-retains-340b-site-neutral-payment-cuts-final-hospital-payment-rule?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&mrkid=959610&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJZd1pqWXpZbVUwWTJKbSIsInQiOiJLV2JJQWM1clQ3OVBiaURjdFVUUUg2K093U21XZm0zVHNPa1hTUjdTWEdxSWZpYklsako0TVMrZFYxazVGZHFkOHJ3M1pWNlwvYW5pVWpPcjM1TEtVRnErOWgxU3NKc1dcLzk3TnZTc1pLZVI0Ymcrb0V1ZEZ2eDh1djFwa1FlaW50In0%3D

billing statement from a doctor's office

The Trump administration finalized a hospital payment rule Friday that retains proposed cuts to off-campus clinics and the 340B drug discount program. 

The changes outlined in the hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) rule come despite both cuts being struck down in legal challenges and amid major pushback from providers.

Site-neutral payments

The agency decided to move ahead with the two-year phase-in of the cuts to outpatient services for clinic visits furnished in an off-campus hospital outpatient setting. The goal is to bring payments to off-campus clinics in line with standalone physicians’ offices.

“With the completion of the two-year phase-in, the cost sharing will be reduced to $9, saving beneficiaries an average of $14 each time they visit an off-campus department for a clinic visit in [calendar year] 2020,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a fact sheet.

However, the two-year project that was supposed to start in 2019 has been halted because of a federal court ruling.

CMS decided to move forward with the cuts for off-campus clinics.

“The government has appeal rights, and is still evaluating the rulings and considering, at the time of this writing, whether to appeal the final judgment,” the agency said.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) said that the site-neutral payment rule was misguided and that CMS ignored the recent court ruling. 

“There are many real and crucial differences between hospital outpatient departments and the patient populations they serve and other sites of care,” said Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the AHA, in a statement.

CMS also finalized a proposed cut for the 340B program that cuts payments by 22.5% in 2020.

CMS has installed prior cuts in 2018 and 2019 to the program that requires drug companies to provide discounts to safety-net hospitals in exchange for getting their products covered on Medicaid.

However, a court ruling has struck down the cuts, and CMS is currently appealing the decision.

CMS said that it hopes to conduct a 340B hospital survey to collect drug acquisition cost data for 2018 and 2019, and the survey will craft a remedy if the appeal doesn’t go their way.

“In the event the 340B hospital survey data are not used to devise a remedy, we intend to consider the public input to inform the steps we would take to propose a remedy for CYs 2018 and 2019 in the CY 2021 rulemaking,” the agency said.

Hospital groups commented that CMS should drop both the 340B and site-neutral cuts because of the legal challenges.

Several groups weren’t happy that the cuts were still there.

“The agency also prolongs confusion and uncertainty for hospitals by maintaining unlawful policies it has been told to abandon in clear judicial directives,” said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals, in a statement Friday.

The hospital-backed group 340B Health added that CMS needs to stop this “unfunny version of ‘Groundhog Day’ and restore Medicare payments for 340B hospitals to their legal, statutory level.”

 

 

 

Hospitals, insurers object to rule posting their negotiated rates

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/hospitals-object-posting-negotiated-rates-and-other-payment-rules?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkdNMU56WmxabVl3TWpRMSIsInQiOiI0dlhaYUJpT2xBU0FqeDNmWkRlZHVZYnRsZ2xBK3pxMmN6RG5kS3Q1UWgrWFYyNllIK2lLZEYzclRDWUYyTFwvOGdhUzRVSnlscG5MQjBtY0NwT2d1TjZHdXJYRUlYRGszVEhrQmY5b0xhRDlFTWNTNUEwWnVvWGUwZXE3ME9kdGgifQ%3D%3D

CMS is proposing that hospitals make public their payer-specific negotiated charges for a limited set of “shoppable” services.

Hospitals and insurers have made clear their opposition to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed rule requiring the disclosure of their privately negotiated contract rates.

CMS is proposing that hospitals make public their payer-specific negotiated charges for a limited set of “shoppable” services or face civil monetary penalties, in a rule to go into effect on January 1, 2020. Comments were due by September 27.

Under the rule, hospitals would display payer-specific negotiated charges for at least 300 shoppable services, including 70 selected by CMS and 230 by the provider.

The American Hospital Association called it the wrong approach, even though it said it supported ensuring patients have the information they need, including knowing what their expected out-of-pocket costs would be. However, the AHA said, “Instead of helping patients estimate their out-of-pocket obligations, it would introduce confusion and fuel anticompetitive behavior among commercial health insurers in an already highly-concentrated insurance industry, seriously limiting the choices available to patients.”

America’s Essential Hospitals said, “We are particularly concerned that the agency’s proposals regarding the public posting of charges, in particular the posting of negotiated rates, offer little benefit to the consumer, add substantial burden to hospitals, and pose harm to competition, potentially driving up prices.”

America’s Health Insurance plans said that forcing disclosure of privately and competitively negotiated rates will not provide consumers with information that is actionable or helpful. I

“Instead,”AHIP said, “it will hamper competitive negotiations and push healthcare prices and premiums higher for patients, consumers, businesses and taxpayers. This proposed rule also has significant implications for, and is interconnected with, other proposed rules regarding interoperability of health care data. We are concerned that unknown entities will have open access to the data, with few restrictions on how they may use it.”

WHY THIS MATTERS

CMS released the proposals on July 29 in the 2020 hospital outpatient prospective payment and ambulatory surgical center payment rule.

The rule also has three additional proposed policies that run afoul of the law, the AHA said.

Specifically, the AHA opposes completion of the phase-in of payment reductions for the hospital outpatient clinic visit in excepted off-campus provider-based departments to the “physician fee schedule equivalent” rate of 40% of the outpatient prospective payment system rate.

The AHA said the proposal “exceeds the Administration’s legal authority and should be abandoned.”

The AHA has already won a case in court on the government’s site neutral payment policy.

“On the clinic visit policy, we remind CMS that the agency was recently found by the courts to have exceeded its statutory authority when it cut the payment rate for clinic services at excepted off-campus provider-based departments,” the AHA said.

Hospitals also object to continuing the current policy that pays for separately payable drugs acquired through the 340B drug savings program at the rate of average sales price minus 22.5%.

And the AHA objects to the implementation of a prior authorization process for five categories of outpatient department services.

THE LARGER TREND

On September 17, a federal judge ruled in favor of the AHA and hospital organizations, saying CMS exceeded its statutory authority when it reduced payments for hospital outpatient services provided in off-campus provider-based departments that were grandfathered under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

The AHA, joined by the Association of American Medical Colleges and several member hospitals, had filed the lawsuit in December.

ON THE RECORD

America’s Essential Hospitals said, “These cuts deter hospitals from expanding access in communities with the most need for healthcare services and run counter to CMS’ goal of integrated, coordinated healthcare.

“Taken together, these proposals would have a chilling effect on beneficiary access to care while also increasing regulatory burden,” the AHA said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report: 3 in 4 hospital markets are now ‘highly concentrated’

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/report-three-four-hospital-markets-are-now-highly-concentrated?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1dJNE5tUTFZV0k1TVdRNCIsInQiOiJMakFtS1IzZmxaRDlQNUtjdFdMUHVYUFdBd1wvXC9EZFR3ekhHU3ZsYVNib2t3bTlEb0Z2bklLZndEZXFOTjZ1RVZ0bURYMXI5dGFNcW92SXFYV25HTVh4d01tNEY4YkVCUnBMamhpbllXSytVTW5ybGJ1OTh0UjJmVDRmSWJ6c1wveCJ9&mrkid=959610

Photo of two men shaking hands in front of a hospital

Nearly 3 in 4 hospital markets around the U.S. are “highly concentrated,” according to a new Healthy Marketplace Index report by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI).

Researchers examined more than 4 million commercial inpatient hospital claims between 2012 and 2016 and found 81 out of 112 (72%) were considered “highly concentrated” using the Department of Justice’s Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI). That’s up from 67% in 2012. 

“Increasingly concentrated hospital markets have been linked to the rising cost of hospital care by nearly every expert in the field,” said Niall Brennan, president and CEO of HCCI, in a statement.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report found:

  • 69% of markets studied experienced an increase in concentration.
  • Metro areas with smaller populations tended to have higher concentration levels. For instance, Springfield, Missouri; Peoria, Illinois; Cape Coral, Florida; and both Durham and Greensboro, North Carolina, had the most concentrated markets in the U.S.
  • Larger metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago had the lowest levels of concentration.
  • Some of the less concentrated metros in 2012 like Trenton, New Jersey, experienced larger increases in concentration over time.

“Our findings add to the growing consensus that most localities have highly concentrated hospital markets, and this is becoming increasingly true over time,” Bill Johnson, Ph.D., a senior researcher at HCCI and an author of the report, said in a statement. “The increased concentration we observed can be driven by many factors such as hospital closures, mergers, and acquisitions, changes in hospital capacity, patient preference, or changes in patients’ insurance networks.”

Previous, HCCI reports found inpatient hospital prices were rising in nearly every metro area studied. This new study found a positive relationship—but not a causal relationship—between price increases and increases in hospital market concentration. Those findings align with similar findings correlating consolidation with rising healthcare prices including from the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Urban Institute.

However, the American Hospital Association recently released its defense of consolidation in a report that argues mergers can improve costs by increasing scale, improving care coordination, reducing capital costs and improving clinical standardization.

 

 

 

Judge strikes down Trump administration’s site-neutral payments rule

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/judge-strikes-down-trump-administration-s-site-neutral-payments-rule?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1dJNE5tUTFZV0k1TVdRNCIsInQiOiJMakFtS1IzZmxaRDlQNUtjdFdMUHVYUFdBd1wvXC9EZFR3ekhHU3ZsYVNib2t3bTlEb0Z2bklLZndEZXFOTjZ1RVZ0bURYMXI5dGFNcW92SXFYV25HTVh4d01tNEY4YkVCUnBMamhpbllXSytVTW5ybGJ1OTh0UjJmVDRmSWJ6c1wveCJ9&mrkid=959610

Gavel court room lawsuit judge

In a huge win for hospitals, a federal judge has tossed the Trump administration’s rule instituting site-neutral payments.

District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Tuesday that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overstepped its authority when it finalized a plan to extend a site-neutral payment policy to clinic visits with the goal of paying the same in Medicare for evaluation and management services at physician offices and hospitals.

Hospital groups immediately rebelled against the plan. Within hours of the rule’s finalization in November, the American Hospital Association (AHA) vowed to challenge the change, as it would cut payment rates to hospitals significantly. AHA and the Association of American Medical Colleges formally did so about a month later.

CMS argues that the payment change would save Medicare beneficiaries $150 million per year, lowering average copays from $23 to $9. Those savings, however, are coupled with significant payment cuts to hospitals; the AHA estimated losses of $380 million in 2019 and $760 million in 2020.

In her order, Collyer said that the rule did not meet the standard of a method to control unneeded hospital use, as CMS argued in court filings.

“CMS believes it is paying millions of taxpayer dollars for patient services in hospital outpatient departments that could be provided at less expense in physician offices. CMS may be correct,” the judge wrote. “But CMS was not authorized to ignore the statutory process for setting payment rates in the Outpatient Prospective Payment System and to lower payments only for certain services performed by certain providers.”

Collyner did not require CMS to pay funds lost under policy change so far this year and instead requested a status report by Oct.1 from both parties to determine whether additional briefings are required to decide a suitable resolution.

In a statement, the AHA and AAMC praised the judge’s decision.

“The ruling, which will allow hospitals to maintain access to important services for patients and communities, affirmed that the cuts directly undercut the clear intent of Congress to protect hospital outpatient departments because of the many real and crucial differences between them and other sites of care,” the hospital groups said. “Now that the court has ruled, it is up to the agency to put forth remedies for impacted hospitals and the patients they serve.”

 

 

 

Healthcare jobs grow at rapid clip, but wages lag amid consolidation boom

https://www.healthcaredive.com/trendline/labor/28/#story-4

Image result for Healthcare jobs grow at rapid clip, but wages lag amid consolidation boom

Healthcare employment is growing at a record pace, but wages remain stagnant, which some experts say likely results in part from the trend of consolidating health systems.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show the industry gained 49,000 jobs in March and 398,000 over the past 12 months. Analysts at Jefferies say the month-to-month growth is the second largest increase on record for the sector. Healthcare job growth has surpassed non-healthcare job growth and nudging the share of total jobs to an all time high, according to consulting firm Altarum.

Hospital employment grew by 14,000 jobs in March, adding up to a total of 120,000 for the combined first quarter of 2019. BLS tallied ambulatory jobs at 27,000 and home health and skilled nursing jobs at 9,000.

At the same time, real average weekly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees across sectors grew 0.1% over the month according to BLS. That growth in earnings is due to an increase in average weekly hours.

For nurses and pharmacists working in hospitals in heavily concentrated markets, annual wage growth has been lagging behind national rates by as much as 1.7 times. That’s according to researchers Elana Prager and Matt Schmitt, of Kellogg and UCLA, respectively, whose working paper compares wage growth rates in markets where mergers have occurred.

The paper drew the ire of the American Hospital Association.

“Among the many serious concerns about the study are its lack of rigor in the definitions and assumptions it used, and absence of data on total compensation and the recognition of other obvious factors that could affect wage growth,” an AHA spokesperson said in a statement criticizing media coverage of the research.

Academics researching the impacts of consolidation have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look at the impact horizontal mergers have on labor and consumers before they become difficult to challenge. FTC green-lit hundreds of horizontal hospital mergers over the past decade, maxing out at 115 in 2017, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management. In 2009, there were 50 such deals.

A Penn Law paper on mergers and labor markets published last year found employer consolidation has had a direct impact on wages and productivity in concentrated labor markets in the past. Wages, the authors write, tend to dilute when competition is scarce and labor concentration is “very high, as high or higher overall than product market concentration.”

Jason Plagman, a healthcare analyst at Jefferies, agreed, telling Healthcare Dive it becomes an “oligopsony situation where there are only a handful of buyers of a product” — in this case, labor — “you tend to see [employers] exert more control.”

As AHA noted, hospital and health systems tend to offer non-wage benefits, “such as employer-sponsored insurance, time off and education benefits” rather than increase wages. That’s an important caveat, said Dennis Shea, a health policy professor at Penn State.

 

Labor push

The debate comes as nurses unions have been pushing hard for additional staff and higher wages for hospital workers in consolidated states like California, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Hospital consolidation has raised prices as much as 20% to 40% when they occur in the same market, according to National Institute for Health Care Management, with some prices reaching as much as 55%.

Unions argue hospitals can afford to pay extra to hire more nurses. Jefferies analyst Plagman said it’s not that easy. About 50% of hospital revenue goes to salary, wages and benefits, he said, and half of that chunk of revenue goes to nurses. “If they give a 3% raise to all nurses, that’s a big impact on their overall expense line,” Plagman said.

The lack of competition bars labor from seeking work elsewhere. A nurse in a concentrated labor market can’t quit their job to work for the hospital down the street, because it’s probably owned by the same health system, Shea said.

Shea and Plagman agreed that movement of labor away from concentrated markets is one way to break the wage slump. But lack of mobility was one of the consequences of concentration found in a National Bureau of Economic Research published in February 2018. The paper suggests a negative relationship between consolidated markets and wages that becomes more pronounced with higher levels of concentration and only increases over time.

Pay raises have historically been pushed by labor unions, and though some hospitals have already raised wages, few have been inclined to raise staffing levels as well.

“Strikes are picking up,” Shea said. “That’s always an indicator that wage and salary growth will pick up a little bit.”

While labor disruption has been on the rise over the past year, Plagman ​said he expects employment and wage growth to continue at the current pace. At some point, he said the market will have to resolve itself.

“What we’re seeing is hospitals and healthcare providers are hiring, but they’ve been very disciplined over the past few years giving raises to nurses and therapists,” Plagman said.

In testimony to the FTC in October, economist Alan Kreuger alleged employers in concentrated markets “collude to hold wages to a fixed, below-market rate,” even when the economy is booming. Union membership has plummeted 25% since 1980, and without a counterweight to balance the power of a monopsony, he argued, employers are free to set wages at will — even if they lag behind inflation rates.

Pressures to contain costs and move from volume to value is forcing health system executives to be extra delicate with their labor expenses. When nurses strike, hospitals have temps at the ready. That’s a boon for staffing agencies like AMN Healthcare Services and Cross Country Healthcare.

Cost control in healthcare is a bit like “pushing on a balloon,” Shea said.

Slow growth or declines in one sector means business is booming for another. In this case, ambulatory added 27,000 jobs month-to-month in March, up from 22,000 in February, and Jefferies analysts are looking favorably at temporary staffing agencies.

While “all indicators” say healthcare wages should be pushed up, Shea said, he wouldn’t be surprised if the growth rate continued to limp along for a little while longer.

 

 

 

 

 

AHA says hospital mergers are good — economists say otherwise

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-transactions-and-valuation/aha-says-hospital-mergers-are-good-economists-say-otherwise.html

Image result for hospital market power

The American Hospital Association released a report stating that hospital acquisitions allow providers to provide better care at a lower cost to patients.

The report, which revisited an analysis concluding similar results three years ago, found acquisitions decrease cost due to the increased size of a combined system as well as clinical standardization.

Specifically, the AHA said hospital acquisitions lead to a 2.3 percent reduction in annual operating expenses at acquired hospitals. The study also said readmission and mortality rates decline at merging hospitals, and acquired hospitals see revenues per admission decline 3.5 percent, suggesting “savings that accrue to merging hospitals are passed on to patients and their health plans.”

However, the AHA’s findings — which were largely based on interviews with leaders of 10 health systems who weren’t randomly surveyed — contradict a wealth of economic data published that argues the opposite.

Last year, researchers found hospitals in monopoly markets, compared to hospitals in markets with four or more competitors, have prices that are 12 percent higher. In markets with four or more competitors, hospitals have lower prices and take on more financial risk, researchers said. Another independent analysis found hospital prices rise after hospitals combine. Researchers have also questioned whether consolidation really leads to better quality.