On June 20, 2018, CMS and HHS issued a “request for information” (RFI) seeking input on strategies to reduce the burden of the federal physician self-referral law or “Stark Law,” including the law’s impact on the transition to value-based care.
In the RFI, CMS solicits information on the ways in which the Stark Law creates challenges for coordinated, value-based care, and the transition to alternative payment and delivery models; it also seeks ideas and input on how the Stark Law may be changed to facilitate these models.
What’s driving the RFI
The RFI is launched as part of the agency’s “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care” led by HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, which is directed at addressing regulatory barriers to coordinated care. As such, the Regulatory Sprint and the RFI represent the administration’s efforts to reduce regulatory burden, while also demonstrating a commitment to the transition to more value-based, coordinated care and risk-based payment. In public statements, HHS and CMS officials have suggested that the Regulatory Sprint may support similar flexibility in other laws, including the Anti-Kickback Statute.
Although the agency does not commit to any specific regulatory changes in this document, it is notable that HHS issued a similar RFI in 2010 just before it issued sweeping waivers of the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute for the Medicare Shared Savings Program. While many of the questions focus on “Alternative Payment Models” under the Quality Payment Program, the RFI is not limited to these programs. Instead, the RFI invites the public to propose new exceptions and revised interpretations of the statute to advance the goals of coordinated care.
What CMS wants to know
In the RFI, CMS poses twenty specific questions related to the Stark Law, Alternative Payment Arrangements, and delivery system innovation strategies. The topics and questions range from:
- Requests for details on Alternative Payment Models and innovations considered or engaged in by healthcare delivery system participants, including details on the financial and operational details of the arrangements, such as financial risk;
- Solicitation of ideas and input on additional and/or new exceptions to the Stark Law that would facilitate existing and innovative arrangements;
- Thoughts on changes to existing provisions of the final rule implementing the Stark Law, such as definitions of “commercial reasonableness” and “fair market value,” and thoughts on other potential definitions and terms such as “Alternative Payment Model,” clinical and financial integration and others;
- Comments on key concepts in the existing law including compensation formulas that do and do not take into account the volume or value of referrals or other business within the meaning of the Stark Law and other novel financial arrangements; an
- Requests for information on the Stark Law’s compliance cost, the potential role of increased transparency to promote compliance and how CMS should assess the Stark Law’s effectiveness in achieving its underling policy goals related to improper financial incentives.
The RFI may represent an important opportunity for the healthcare industry to educate CMS on current experiences and challenges, and to shape the content of future rules implementing changes to the Stark Law, particularly in a time of industry integration across the continuum of care. The RFI also offers tangible evidence of the administration’s commitment to continue a migration to value-based care, and potentially reflects an enhanced commitment and desire to migrate away from fee-for-service payment to arrangements involving financial risk.