Medicare Advantage should not ‘game the system’ but prioritize patient care, honest billing

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/medicare-advantage-should-not-game-the-system-but-prioritize-patient-care/585613/

We all agree healthcare providers should prioritize patient well-being and bill honestly. Most do. But, if not, my office, the Office of Inspector General for the HHS, and other government agencies, are watching. 

We are especially monitoring an area of concern: abuse of risk adjustment in Medicare Advantage, the managed care program serving 23 million beneficiaries, 37% of the Medicare population, at a cost of about $264 billion annually. We have good reason to pay attention. Our recent report found that Medicare Advantage paid $2.6 billion a year for diagnoses unrelated to any clinical services.

Plans used a tool called “health risk assessments” to collect these diagnoses. Ideally, health risk assessments might be part of a Medicare beneficiary’s annual wellness visit and help care teams identify health issues. However, some Medicare Advantage plans use risk assessments without involving the patients’ regular care providers. 

Some plans partner with businesses whose primary livelihood entails identifying diagnoses by conducting risk assessments. Some organizations send professional risk assessors, perhaps practitioners with some medical credentials but not physicians or other clinicians involved in the person’s care, to the beneficiaries’ homes.  Our study found that 80% of that extra $2.6 billion payment resulted from in-home health risk assessments. 

Medicare’s capitated payments vary by beneficiary for good reason. If Medicare paid the same for every beneficiary, plans might favor younger and healthier enrollees. It may not hold true every month, but, on average, it will cost a plan less to serve a healthy 65-year-old than an older person with diabetes or cancer.

Risk adjustment tailors the capitated rate to each beneficiary’s expected costs, so plans should enroll any interested beneficiary and not discriminate. But the risk adjustment is just a projection. Beneficiaries need not actually incur higher costs for the plan to receive higher payments. Some beneficiaries with a seemingly low risk will incur high costs in a given year and some beneficiaries with a high risk will incur low or even no costs.

In fact, one Medicare Advantage plan received about $7 million for beneficiaries who did not appear to receive any clinical care that year — other than the risk assessment, which was the only reason for the higher Medicare payment. Finding beneficiaries with high risk scores but low care utilization can prove a profitable business strategy. 

Without gaming, on the aggregate, risk-based payments and utilization should even out over time.  But what if plans do game the system? Perhaps making their beneficiaries look sicker? Or not providing care for beneficiaries’ health conditions?

We identified two main concerns:

  • bad data — risk of incorrect diagnoses identified in the health risk assessment resulting in incorrect payments to plans.
  • suboptimal care — risk that diagnoses are correct, but patients are not getting the care they need.

The question of whether beneficiaries are experiencing quality and safety problems requires more study. For example, it is possible that beneficiaries are receiving care, but plans are not submitting this data as required. Regardless, plans that use risk assessments to gather diagnoses, but then take no further action, are clearly missing an opportunity for meaningful care coordination. We urge Medicare Advantage plans to:

  • Ensure practices drive better care and not just higher profits.  
  • Enact policies and procedures to ensure the integrity and usefulness of the data.

This could include measures like educating patients about the identified diagnoses and sharing them with caregivers. These steps are consistent with the best practices identified by CMS and provided to Medicare Advantage Plans in 2015.

It is not necessarily bad that Medicare allows risk assessments to influence payment, trusting that plans use risk assessments to identify missed diagnoses and not to fabricate nonexistent diagnoses. 

However, this practice only helps patients if there is some additional intervention to improve care. If risk assessments are performed by third parties, at minimum, the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s care team should learn the results. Risk assessments should trigger meaningful care coordination, patient engagement and help ensure the care team takes appropriate action. Risk assessments that generate diagnoses for payment purposes, but result in no follow-up care raise serious concerns.

Ensuring beneficiaries receive the care they need should be front of mind for executives as they design risk assessment programs with an eye to quality of care and better care coordination. Failing that, executives should know that government agencies will scrutinize risk adjustment for abuse. 

In response to our report, CMS promised to provide additional oversight and target plans that reap the greatest payments from in-home health risk assessments and conditions generated solely by risk assessments for which the beneficiaries appeared to receive no other clinical services. My office has identified red flags in some industry patterns and recommends plans adopt best practices. Executives should champion best practices and make sure their plans are driving correct diagnoses and quality care.

Ensuring that beneficiaries are properly diagnosed is important, not just for the integrity of taxpayer-funded federal healthcare programs, but also for the welfare of the beneficiaries served. Coordinating care and providing appropriate follow up is critical.

My office and other government agencies are targeting oversight to make sure plans do not pad risk adjustments with unsupported diagnoses. When plans find new real diagnoses, the plans deserve the extra payment, but only if patients get appropriate care.

 

 

 

 

House government funding bill gives providers relief on Medicare advance payments

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/house-government-funding-bill-gives-providers-relief-medicare-advance-payments?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&mrkid=959610&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJZek56Z3lNV1E0TW1NMyIsInQiOiJKdUtkZE5DVGphdkNFanpjMHlSMzR4dEE4M29tZ24zek5lM3k3amtUYSt3VTBoMmtMUnpIblRuS2lYUWozZk11UE5cL25sQ1RzbFpzdExcL3JvalBod3Z6U3BZK3FBNjZ1Rk1LQ2pvT3A5Witkc0FmVkJocnVRM0dPbFJHZTlnRGJUIn0%3D

The House passed a short-term government funding bill that extends the deadline for providers to start repaying Medicare advance payment loans to the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The bill that the House passed late Tuesday is a major win for provider groups who worried they could struggle to repay the Medicare loans starting in August. The bill still has to pass through the GOP-controlled Senate.

The continuing resolution, which funds the federal government through Dec. 11, also lowers the interest rate for payments made under the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program to 4%, down from 10.25%.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) gave out more than $100 billion in advance payments in March to providers slammed by the pandemic. The payments are essentially loans which CMS recoups by garnishing Medicare payments to providers. That process starts 120 days after the first payment was received.

But the bill would give providers one year before Medicare can claim their payments.

It would also give providers 29 months since the first payment to fully repay the loan amount. Currently, CMS gives providers a year to fully repay.

In addition to the changes to the repayment terms, the bill also delays $4 billion in payment cuts to disproportionate share hospitals that were supposed to go into effect as part of the Affordable Care Act. The cuts will now be delayed until December.

The bill earned plaudits from the hospital industry, which has pressed Congress for help as providers are still struggling with the pandemic and could not afford to have Medicare payments become garnished.

“Our hospitals continue to suffer high costs and revenue losses associated with COVID-19, and they welcome the relief this continuing resolution would provide,” said Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents safety net hospitals.

The Federation of American Hospitals said earlier this week before the House vote that the advance payment program is a “vital lifeline to hospitals and healthcare providers during the pandemic that has enabled hospitals and providers to maintain access to critical patient care. But the ongoing pressures of the current crisis required a revision of the repayment terms.”

The bill, which has approval from the White House, now heads to the Senate. The chamber must reach a decision on the legislation to avoid a government shutdown when funding runs out on Sept. 30.

 

 

 

 

10 states where private insurers pay the most, least relative to Medicare

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/10-states-where-private-insurers-pay-the-most-least-relative-to-medicare.html?utm_medium=email

Market Muscle: Study Uncovers Differences Between Medicare And Private  Insurers | Kaiser Health News

Nationwide, private insurers pay an average of 247 percent more than what Medicare pays for similar services, according to a RAND Corp. study published Sept. 18. 

The study examined 750,000 claims for inpatient hospital stays and 40.2 million claims for outpatient services between 2016 and 2018. The sample included data from 3,112 hospitals across 49 states.

The Advisory Board mapped where private insurers pay hospitals the most and least relative to Medicare. Data for Hawaii, North Dakota, Maryland and South Dakota were unavailable. 

Here are the 10 states where private insurers pay the most relative to Medicare:

1. West Virginia: 349.2 percent
2. South Carolina: 349.1 percent
3. Florida: 340 percent
4. Tennessee: 329.5 percent
5. Alaska: 327.5 percent
6. Indiana: 304.1 percent
7. Georgia: 299 percent
8. Minnesota: 295.7 percent
9. Wisconsin: 290.3 percent
10. Virginia: 288.3 percent

Here are the 10 states where private insurers pay the least relative to Medicare:

1. Arkansas: 186.1 percent
2. Michigan: 193.6 percent
3. Rhode Island: 195.9 percent
4. Nevada: 207.9 percent
5. Pennsylvania: 208.8 percent
6. Kentucky: 214.2 percent
7. Connecticut: 214.6 percent
8. Utah: 216.1 percent
9. Kansas: 225.9 percent
10. Massachusetts: 227.7 percent

 

 

Medicare won’t cover coronavirus vaccines approved under emergency use authorization

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/pharmacy/medicare-won-t-cover-coronavirus-vaccines-approved-under-emergency-use-authorization.html?utm_medium=email

Medicare Wouldn't Cover Costs of Administering Coronavirus Vaccine Approved  Under Emergency-Use Authorization - WSJ

Medicare won’t cover the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine if it is approved under an emergency use authorization, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The White House recently concluded that Medicare’s exclusion of emergency-use drug costs could mean 44 million Americans, or 15 percent of the U.S. population, may have to pay out-of-pocket for a vaccine if it is approved under an emergency use authorization, the Journal reported.

HHS is now exploring coverage options, and a spokesperson told the Journal any vaccine doses bought by the government will be provided free.

The administration of President Donald Trump has pushed for a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved and distributed before the presidential election, which would likely only come with an emergency use authorization, since FDA approvals take more time.

In March, lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which ensures no out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 vaccines for people on Medicare.

HHS also said in August that government health insurance programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, would cover the costs of administering a COVID-19 vaccine. 

 

 

 

 

Chicago hospital defeats allegations of ‘ghost payroll’ scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/chicago-hospital-defeats-allegations-of-ghost-payroll-scheme.html?utm_medium=email

False Claims Act & Physicians - Basic Primer

An Illinois federal court has dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging University of Chicago Medical Center, Medical Business Office and Trustmark Recovery Services violated the False Claims Act, according to Bloomberg Law

MBO and Trustmark provided medical billing and debt collection services for UCMC. The whistleblowers, Kenya Sibley, Jasmeka Collins and Jessica Lopez, alleged MBO and Trustmark engaged in a “ghost payroll” scheme that involved regularly falsifying UCMC invoices, listing employes who didn’t work on the hospital’s collections and time charges from people who were not employees.

The whistleblowers, former employees of MBO and Trademark, alleged the companies and UCMC knew about the “ghost payroll” scheme, and that the allegedly falsified invoices caused the hospital to report overstated wages to the federal government, triggering a larger Medicare reimbursement than it was entitled to.

The complaint further alleged that MBO and Trustmark engaged in a “bad debt” scheme. “MBO would regularly write-off Medicare bad debts for amounts a Medicare beneficiary owed without conducting a reasonable collection effort, when Medicare beneficiaries were still paying on the debts, or when Medicare beneficiaries did not actually owe a debt,” the amended complaint states.

After writing off the bad debt, MBO would allegedly send the bad debt to Trustmark or another collection agency for further collection efforts.

On Sept. 14, Judge Harry Leinenweber of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the amended complaint, saying the whistleblowers failed to adequately allege the defendants engaged in a scheme to inflate bad debts and falsify invoices in University of Chicago’s cost reports. 

The allegations of a “ghost payroll” scheme fail because the whistleblowers failed to allege that defendants certified compliance with any regulation, which is required when filing a false claims case, the judge said in the decision. The amended complaint also fails to establish sufficiently UCMC’s knowledge of the alleged scheme.

The judge also ruled that the amended complaint failed to adequately allege a “bad debt” scheme. Allegations related to MBO’s and Trustmark’s bad debt reports to clients cannot satisfy the requirements to show that companies or their clients submitted improper claims for bad debt reimbursements to the government, reads the decision.

 

 

 

 

Administration’s Record on Health Care

President Trump’s Record on Health Care

President Trump's Record on Health Care | KFF

A review of Trump’s health care record so far. Avoiding the problematic issue of Trump’s alleged plan, analysts at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released a report this week that examines President Trump’s record on health care over the last three and half years. Some highlights from the overview and the full analysis:

  • On the Affordable Care Act: “From the start of his presidential term, President Trump took aim at the Affordable Care Act, consistent with his campaign pledge leading up to the 2016 election. He supported many efforts in Congress to repeal the law and replace it with an alternative that would have weakened protections for people with pre-existing conditions, eliminated the Medicaid expansion, and reduced premium assistance for people seeking marketplace coverage. While the ACA remains in force, President Trump’s Administration is supporting the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ACA in its entirety that is scheduled for oral arguments one week after the election.”

 

  • On Medicare and Medicaid: “The Administration has proposed spending reductions for both Medicaid and Medicare, along with proposals that would promote flexibility for states but limit eligibility for coverage under Medicaid (e.g., work requirements).”

 

  • On drug prices: “The President has made prescription drug prices a top health policy priority and has issued several executive orders and other proposals that aim to lower drug prices; most of these proposals, however, have not been implemented, other than one change that would lower the cost of insulin for some Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes, and another that allows pharmacists to tell consumers if they could save money on their prescriptions. The Trump Administration has also moved forward with an initiative to improve price transparency in an effort to lower costs, though it is held up in the courts.”

 

  • On the response to the coronavirus: “The Trump administration has not established a coordinated, national plan to scale-up and implement public health measures to control the spread of coronavirus, instead choosing to have states assume primary responsibility for the COVID-19 response, with the federal government acting as back-up and ‘supplier of last resort.’ The President has downplayed the threat of COVID-19, given conflicting messages and misinformation, and often been at odds with public health officials and scientific evidence.”

 

President Trump’s Record on Health Care – Issue Brief

 

ACOs in Medicare Shared Savings Program post third year of savings

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/ACOS-medicare-shared-savings-health-affairs-seema-verma/585210/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-09-15%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:29671%5D&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive

PYA Releases Updated Medicare ACO Road Map White Paper - PYA

Dive Brief:

  • The Medicare Shared Savings Program saved the agency $1.19 billion in 2019, according to CMS performance results of 541 accountable care organizations released Monday.
  • This marks the third year of savings for the value-based care program and its largest yet, CMS Administrator Seema Verma wrote in a Health Affairs blog post Monday. ACOs taking on more risk continued to outperform those that didn’t, Verma wrote, including those under its Pathways to Success rule rolled out in December 2018.
  • ACOs in the Pathways to Success program generated net per-beneficiary savings of $169 compared to $106 for legacy track ACOs, Verma said, suggesting the policies are incentivizing ACOs to deliver more coordinated and efficient care.

Dive Insight:

ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals and other providers with payments tied to the cost and quality of care they provide beneficiaries. According to Verma’s post, the number of ACOs taking on downside financial risk has nearly doubled since the Pathways to Success program launched for those in the Medicare Shared Savings Program.

New participation options under the rule require accountability for spending increases, generally after two years for new ACOs, and close evaluation of care quality. The new benchmarks and speed at which ACOs would need to take on downside risk was initially shot down by ACOs.

But CMS also created an option for “low-revenue” ACOs, generally run by physician practices rather than hospitals, allowing them an additional year before taking on downside risk for cost increases.

According to the blog post, physician-led ACOs performed better than hospital-led ACOs.

But the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations said only 5% of eligible ACOs took CMS’ offer on the Pathways to Success program structure early and instead chose to remain under the previous MSSP rules.

“To get program growth back on track, Congress needs to take a close look at the Value in Health Care Act, which makes several improvements to the Medicare ACO program and better incentivizes Advanced Alternative Payment Models,” trade group CEO Clif Gaus said in a statement.

Farzad Mostashari, CEO of the Aledade, pointed to physician-led ACOs out-performing hospital ACOs in a statement on the results. “What we need now is to help more practices participate in these models of care,” he said.

Low-revenue ACOs, typically physician-led, had per beneficiary savings of $201 compared to $80 per beneficiary for high-revenue ACOs. Low-revenue ACOs in the Pathways to Success program saved $189 per beneficiary while high-revenue ACOs in the program saved $155 per beneficiary, according to the 2019 performance results.

 

 

 

 

Drug pricing politics aren’t dead

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-319d5198-f7a8-401f-9b00-26118ca0b966.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Ending The Cycle Of Drug Price Hikes, Death And Outrage | Cognoscenti

President Trump released an executive order yesterday ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to begin the process of limiting what Medicare pays for prescription drugs relative to other countries.

Why it matters: It’s September of an election year. That means that this executive order is, at best, a statement of Trump’s intention to keep trying to achieve something big on drug prices should he get a second term.

  • But given that he’s had four years already to act on what was also a big issue in 2016, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of this ever translating into official policy.
  • “President Trump’s executive order on drug pricing does not by itself do anything. It has to be followed up by regulations, which will take time. Trump has a history of bold talk on drug prices, only to pull back when it comes to putting actual regulations in place,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt tweeted.

Details: The order calls for Medicare to receive the “most-favored-nation” price for certain drugs.

  • This price is defined as “the lowest price, after adjusting for volume and differences in national gross domestic product, for a pharmaceutical product that the drug manufacturer sells in a member country of the [OECD] that has a comparable per-capita gross domestic product.”

The bottom line: Trump and Joe Biden have both pitched aggressive drug pricing policies — a good reminder that once we get the pandemic under control, the issue is bound to become front-and-center again.

 

 

 

 

Hospital revenue at risk in CMS’ proposal to move joint replacement to outpatient care

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/hospital-revenue-risk-cmss-proposal-move-joint-replacement-outpatient-care

Hospital revenue at risk in CMS' proposal to move joint replacement to outpatient  care | Healthcare Finance News

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ push to move procedures from inpatient to less expensive outpatient care continues, with revenue at risk for lucrative joint replacement starting in 2021.

CMS’s continued push to the outpatient setting has been going on for some time, but the agency has found its sea legs in the recent hospital outpatient prospective payment system proposed rule, according to Stuart Clark, a managing director for The Advisory Board Company, in an August 27 presentation on payment updates.

CMS is slowly phasing out the inpatient only list over the next three years and is adding more services to the ambulatory surgical center list. There’s around 1,400 total codes on the list right now which are expected to be phased out by 2024.

MORE ON REIMBURSEMENT

Hospital revenue at risk in CMS’ proposal to move joint replacement to outpatient care

At stake is $3.2 billion in revenue for a one-day length of stay as 80% of revenue for all services is in joint replacement.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ push to move procedures from inpatient to less expensive outpatient care continues, with revenue at risk for lucrative joint replacement starting in 2021.

CMS’s continued push to the outpatient setting has been going on for some time, but the agency has found its sea legs in the recent hospital outpatient prospective payment system proposed rule, according to Stuart Clark, a managing director for The Advisory Board Company, in an August 27 presentation on payment updates.

CMS is slowly phasing out the inpatient only list over the next three years and is adding more services to the ambulatory surgical center list.

There’s around 1,400 total codes on the list right now which are expected to be phased out by 2024.

For 2021, CMS has added 11 new procedures to the ASC list, including musculoskeletal services and total hip replacement.

WHY THIS MATTERS 

Eighty percent of hospital revenue for all services is in joint replacement. At stake is $3.2 billion in revenue for a one-day length of stay.

Per hospital, 12-15 procedures may shift from a one-day stay to outpatient, according to Clark and Shay Pratt, vice president of Strategy and Service Line Research for the Advisory Board.

Hospitals may not see a huge amount of revenue at risk if they can continue to keep the services in-house, but in an outpatient setting.

However, there is less revenue to be made from the move to a lower cost care setting. And an estimated 83% of ambulatory surgical centers are physician-owned.

There is still debate on the efficacy of total hip replacement done as an outpatient service. Commercial payers say ASCs can provide total hip replacement, while opponents say they are not equipped for the service, according to the Advisory Board.

The comment period for the proposed rule is set to close on October 5.

Next year, CMS is expected to add cardiovascular services to the outpatient list, but the volume and revenue is not on as large a scale as joint replacement.

THE LARGER TREND IN TELEHEALTH

In telehealth, CMS is implementing incremental change as its use has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic.

For Medicare reimbursement, 22 services have been added to the telehealth list. Of these, nine codes have been added permanently and 13 are approved through the end of the year in which the public health emergency ends.

Audio-only services are eligible under the public health emergency, but CMS is inviting input on how long they should remain eligible. The agency has said it’s uncertain about the value of an audio-only visit.

 

 

 

 

CMS to require positive COVID-19 test results for Medicare pay boost

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/cms-to-require-positive-covid-19-test-results-for-medicare-pay-boost.html?utm_medium=email

CMS to Pay For Hospital COVID-19 Care Furnished in Other Settings

CMS recently released guidance that includes a new requirement for hospitals to get a Medicare payment boost for caring for patients diagnosed with COVID-19. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided a 20 percent add-on payment to the inpatient prospective payment system diagnosis-related group rate for treating patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Until now, a physician’s documentation that a patient has COVID-19 was sufficient to receive the add-on payment. However, recent guidance from CMS adds the requirement to have a positive COVID-19 laboratory test documented in the patient’s medical record for the claim to be eligible for the add-on payment. The new requirement applies to admissions occurring on or after Sept. 1.

To receive the payment boost under the new guidance, the COVID-19 test must be taken within 14 days of the hospital admission. Only the results of viral testing that are consistent with CDC guidelines can be used. Tests performed by an entity other than the hospital, such as a local government-run testing center, can be manually entered into the patient’s medical record, CMS said.

Meeting the new requirement for the add-on payment could be difficult for hospitals, Ronald Hirsch, MD, vice president of the regulations and education group at R1 Physician Advisory Services, told Becker’s Hospital Review

“There is no way to indicate on a claim for a hospital patient that a test was positive or negative,” he said. “First, the hospital will manually need to go into every record for a patient with U07.1 as a diagnosis and look for a positive test in their own lab system. If one is not found, they will need to search the notes to see if the patient had a test in the 14 days prior to admission and if that test was positive. If there is a note the patient self-reported that they had a positive test, the hospital must decide if they must go through due diligence and attempt to get that actual test result for their records.”

In cases where there isn’t a positive test noted in the medical record, hospitals would need to notify the Medicare audit contractor that they are submitting a claim for a COVID-19 diagnosis that was made clinically, Dr. Hirsch said. The MAC would need to make the appropriate adjustment to ensure the 20 percent add-on payment is not made.

The “undue burden” that the new requirement will place on hospitals was one of the concerns the American Hospital Association highlighted in an Aug. 26 letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma. The group is also concerned that requiring a positive COVID-19 test will lead to unnecessary additional testing.

“Basing the COVID-19 diagnosis code on clinical judgment alone — in line with coding rules — continues to be an important approach given that test accuracy may not be reliable, re-testing is unnecessarily onerous, and some communities face persistent testing shortages.” 

The AHA is urging CMS to drop the new requirement and allow provider documentation of a COVID-19 diagnosis to be sufficient for the add-on payment if the test result is unavailable.