Medicare

CMS finalizes 2023 landscape for Medicare payment and policy

This week, our In Focus section reviews the remaining Medicare payment and policy rules, finalized over the last several days by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), that will shape the landscape for the Medicare program in 2023 and beyond. These include the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) Payment System, the Home Health Prospective Payment System and Home Infusion Therapy Services updates, and the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) payment rules.

The final Medicare rules are directionally aligned with the agency’s policy priorities, including improving health equity and addressing the health and health-related needs of rural and underserved communities, promoting value-based, whole-person care, and removing barriers to behavioral health services, among other issues.

Across these rules, CMS took some steps where they have authority to mitigate reductions in payment rates for some provider types. Final payment and policy changes, however, will inform stakeholders’ federal advocacy efforts with Congress. Specifically, as part of an end of year legislative package lawmakers are considering legislative proposals to address the 2023 payment levels and their relationship to general inflation and the scheduled payment cuts for physicians. These issues and Medicare program solvency are expected to remain hot topics throughout 2023.

For today’s blog our HMA experts highlight a few of the finalized policy changes contained in the aforementioned regulations that will take effect on or after January 1, 2023. The HMA Medicare team will continue to analyze these policies for their immediate implications. Additionally, final policies and CMS’ response to commenters offer important insights that providers, vendors, and other stakeholders will want to incorporate in their future policy, financial, and operational strategies.

Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule

On November 1, 2022, CMS released final updates and policy changes for Medicare payments under the PFS, and other Medicare Part B issues. This rule largely finalizes many of the policies described in HMA’s earlier summary of the PFS proposed rule. Notably, CMS finalized updates to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) largely as proposed. The agency expects these changes will renew and broaden provider interest in participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). The new MSSP opportunities will support CMS’ work towards its goal that by 2030 100 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care. As expected, CMS also finalized proposals intended to enhance access to behavioral health services and strengthen the behavioral health model within the Medicare program. The changes represent a major shift in traditional Medicare’s coverage of services to identify and treat mental health conditions and substance used disorders. CMS plans to address payment for new codes that describe caregiver behavioral management training in CY 2024 rulemaking.

Notable policies that will be of interest to Medicare stakeholders include:

  • Payment Rates and Inflation: The conversion factor used to determine payments to physicians through the PFS will be $33.06 in 2023, a decrease of $1.55 from the 2022 conversion factor. The final payment update reflects the following dynamics:
    • Expiration of a statutory one-year 3 percent increase in payments,
    • A statutory 0 percent payment update for CY 2023, and
    • A budget neutrality adjustment across all billing codes resulting from modifications to PFS weights which increased the relative value of primary care billing codes.

This cut to the conversion factor is driven by statutory requirements. The physician community is actively advocating to Congress that they need an update to their payments given the high levels of inflation and the lack of automatic updates built in to the PFS.

CMS also updated the information under the PFS to account for current trends in the delivery of health care, especially concerning independent versus facility-based practices. CMS indicated the updates and improved public use files respond to requests the agency has received to provide more granular information that separates the specialty-specific impacts by site of service. According to CMS, stakeholders are seeking to better understand how Medicare payment policies are directly responsible for the consolidation of privately-owned physician practices and freestanding supplier facilities into larger health systems.

  • Medicare Shared Savings Program: CMS finalized significant updates to MSSP that are aligned with the agency’s overall value-based care strategy of growth, alignment, and equity. These policies include paying advance shared savings to certain new ACOs that can be used to support their participation in the Shared Savings Program, a health equity adjustment to an ACO’s quality score, a revised benchmarking methodology, and allowing longer periods of time for ACOs to transition to downside risk. This package of changes are intended to increase participation in MSSP and in particular participation in rural and underserved areas.
  • Behavioral health: The final rule expands the types of behavioral health providers eligible for reimbursement under Medicare Part B. Marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, addiction counselors, certified peer recovery specialists, and others will be able to provide behavioral health services while being under general supervision rather than “direct” supervision. Psychologists and social workers that are part of a primary care team will also be eligible for payment to help manage behavioral health needs. Additionally, CMS confirmed that Opioid Treatment Programs may bill Medicare for services performed by mobile units without obtaining a separate registration and increasing payment rates to Opioid Treatment Programs.
  • Telehealth: CMS finalized several policies related to Medicare telehealth services, reflecting statutory requirements of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2022 and the agency’s ongoing evaluation of temporarily available services. The changes related to the CAA of 2022 include extending for 151 days beyond the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) the following coverage provisions: allowing telehealth services to be furnished in any geographic area and in any originating site setting (including the beneficiary’s home); allowing certain services to be furnished via audio-only telecommunications systems; allowing physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists to furnish telehealth services; delaying the onset of the in-person visit requirements for mental health services furnished during the PHE; and making policy changes consistent with those named above under the payment systems for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC).
  • Ground Ambulance: CMS affirmed that its expanded list of covered destinations for ground ambulance transports was for the duration of the COVID-19 PHE only. The regulation also finalized changes to the long awaited Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument, including clarifying to process for requesting exemption from reporting cost data through this collection device.

Outpatient Prospective Payment System and Ambulatory Surgical Care Payment System Final Rule

Also on November 1, 2022, CMS published the calendar year 2023 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) Payment System final rule. The rule presents new opportunities to address access to emergency services in rural communities and updates other outpatient and ASC policies.

  • Payment rates and Inflation: CMS increased hospital outpatient and ambulatory surgical center payments by 3.8 percent in 2023 above 2022 rates. This reflects a 4.1 percent hospital market basket increase plus a 0.3 percentage point reduction for productivity and is consistent with Medicare’s 2023 hospital inpatient payment increase. The hospital industry has expressed deep concern to Congress and CMS that although the 4.1 percent market basket increase is as high as it has been in many previous years, it lags behind the measure of general inflation (October 2022 consumer price Index = 8.2 percent)
  • Remote Behavioral health: CMS finalized its proposal to cover as an outpatient service remote behavioral health services provided by clinical staff of hospital outpatient departments, including critical access hospitals (CAHs), to beneficiaries in their homes. This policy was initially permitted under CMS’ COVID-19 PHE emergency rulemaking but this is now covered on a more permanent basis.
    • In 2023 beneficiaries would need to receive an in-person service within the 6 months prior to the first time hospital clinical staff provide the remote behavioral health services. CMS also is requiring an in-person service without the use of communications technology within 12 months of each behavioral health service furnished remotely.
    • The agency also finalized coverage of audio-only telehealth services in instances where the beneficiary is unable to use, does not wish to use, or does not have access to two-way, audio/video technology.
  • Algorithm driven services: CMS finalized policy to pay separately (rather than bundle payment) for Algorithm-driven services that assist practitioners in making clinical assessments. This includes clinical decision support software, clinical risk modeling, and computer aided detection (CAD).
  • Rural Emergency Hospitals (REH) : CMS finalized conditions of participation, payment rates, and Medicare enrollment procedures for the new REH provider type largely as proposed. The new REH program will be effective January 1, 2023. Federal policymakers believe the REH provider type could provide a more sustainable option for rural hospitals facing closure and to support access to care in rural and underserved communities. A previous HMA blog explains the payment and service parameters for the REH option.
    • Hospitals and health systems and the rural communities they serve will want to analyze the final requirements for health and safety standards, staffing, and physical environment and emergency preparedness and other expectations and balance these with community perspectives to determine the feasibility of this pathway.
  • Site neutral payment policy: CMS finalized its proposal to exempt Rural Sole Community Hospitals (SCHs) from the Medicare policy which pays clinic visit services 40 percent of the OPPS payment rate when provided at hospital outpatient departments. Instead, CMS will pay these providers full OPPS rates for clinic visits.
  • 340B Drug Program: CMS finalized a payment rate of Average Sales Price plus 6 percent under the 340B program.

Home Health Prospective Payment System Rate Update and Home Infusion Therapy Services Requirements

On October 31, 2022, CMS finalized the calendar year 2023 Home Health Prospective Payment System (HH PPS) payment rates. CMS projects that aggregate spending for home health agencies in 2023 will increase by 0.7 percent, compared to 2022. This is a significant update as compared to the 4.2 percent decrease the agency proposed earlier this year. The originally proposed payment cut was in part due to CMS’s requirement to implement at statutory budget neutrality requirement for the Patient-Driven Groupings Model. While there was fervent industry pushback and advocacy to eliminate the proposed payment adjustments, CMS instead used its discretionary authority to implement a phased approach to payment reductions. The first half will be effective in 2023, and the remaining permanent adjustment and any other potential adjustments needed to account for behavior change will be proposed in future rulemaking. CMS’ payment approach is expected to factor heavily in the overall stability and market dynamics within the home health agency industry in the months ahead.

Other notable final rule Home Health policies include:

  • CMS finalized a permanent cap on wage index decreases to promote predictability in payments and smooth year-to-year changes. This was also implemented within the Inpatient Prospective Payment System.
  • CMS finalized the Expanded Home Health Value-Based Purchasing (HHVBP) Model home health agency baseline year to CY 2022 and the Model baseline year to CY 2023.
  • CMS will begin collecting data on the use of telecommunications technology on home health claims voluntarily starting on January 1, 2023, and on a mandatory basis beginning on July 1, 2023. Further details are expected to be issued in January 2023.

ESRD Prospective Payment System Final Rule

Also on October 31, 2022, CMS released the calendar year 2023 ESRD Prospective Payment System Final Rule. In addition to updating the payment rates, the rule updates requirements for the ESRD Quality Incentive Program (QIP). Looking ahead CMS plans to consider comments in response to several requests for information as it updates the ESRD QIP, works to align resource use with payment, ensure equitable access to technologies that improve health and quality of life.

Additional impactful policies for providers and stakeholders include:

  • CMS did not approve any of the three new technologies which applied for pass-through payment. While CMS has created a payment mechanism to promote innovation, it has proved challenging to actually access this payment mechanism. That may slow investment in the space if CMS continues to set such a high bar.
  • As laid out in the final rule, CMS remains on track to fold all oral drugs including phosphate binders into the bundle when the statutory ban expires in 2025.
  • CMS received many comments for its RFI regarding TDAPA, the new drug pass-through payment program in ESRD. It is likely that CMS will dedicate significant attention to this topic in the next rulemaking cycle. In particular, the RFI focused on how CMS might add new money to the ESRD bundle when new drugs exit pass-through, including the potential for accounting for other drugs which are replaced by the new products.

While providers and stakeholders must analyze the immediate impact of the final rules, it is also essential to consider the broader context of CMS’ reimbursement and policy decisions.

Notably, there is more urgency for the provider community, Medicare Advantage plans, and the broader Medicare stakeholder community to prepare for the imminent end of the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration. Congress and the Administration have already begun to identify and make permanent certain flexibilities afforded during the COVID-19 PHE. Other flexibilities will be phased out or ended. Looking ahead to this transition, thoughtful preparation and consideration of the Medicare policy context and opportunities will be critical.

For additional information, please contact Amy Bassano, Mark Desmarais, Zach GaumerAndrea Maresca, and Aaron Tripp.

Advancing health equity and integrated care for rural dual eligibles

This week, our In Focus section highlights the Health Affairs article, Advancing Health Equity and Integrated Care for Rural Dual Eligibles, authored by  Ellen Breslin, Samantha Di Paola, Susan McGeehan, Rebecca Kellenberg, and Andrea Maresca, Health Management Associates.

A public health crisis is growing more acute in rural America, disproportionately impacting individuals with both Medicaid and Medicare (the “dually eligible”). The rural health crisis is a health equity concern that affects all rural residents, including dually eligible individuals. There are 47 to 60 million people residing in rural areas. Twenty-one percent of dually eligible individuals live in rural areas—that’s about 2.6 million people. Based on these numbers, the authors calculate that the dual eligible population residing in rural communities accounts for about 5 percent of the total rural population. Dually eligible individuals living in rural areas are at risk of falling through the cracks.

Dually eligible individuals lack access to adequate medical, behavioral health, home-and community-based services (HCBS) and other social services; those living in rural areas face even steeper challenges. Since dually eligible individuals are among the poorest of all individuals covered under Medicare, they are at significant risk of paying a steep rural mortality penalty.

With these challenges there are opportunities for innovation for the dually eligible population living in rural communities. The US can reverse the mortality-disparity rate trajectory. Public and private entities are interested in revitalizing rural America, confronting the rural health crisis, and harnessing the power of rural communities. Investment in the rural health care sector is essential given it is a major economic driver of rural communities.

HMA is creating a toolkit with actionable solutions to improve access to services and integrated care and health equity for individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid who live in rural areas across the country. ​This project is a follow-on project to a previous HMA project supported by Arnold Ventures. ​In 2021, HMA prepared a brief, Medicare-Medicaid Integration: Essential Elements for Integrated Care Programs for Dually Eligible Individuals, to increase and promote enrollment in integrated care programs (ICPs) meeting dually eligible individuals’ needs and preferences. Interviewees including dually eligible individuals helped HMA to identify “access to needed services in rural areas” as an essential element of ICPs. In response, HMA started a new project to create a toolkit with actionable strategies to improve access to needed services and improve integrated care opportunities, specific to dually eligible rural residents’ needs.

HMA designed the toolkit around four values: 1) rural health equity is an imperative for dually eligible individuals, 2) actionable solutions and innovations must come from the community, 3) there is no single pathway to integration, and 4) Medicare and Medicaid flexibilities are critical to inspiring innovations to advance health equity, access, and integration. The toolkit will provide actionable solutions for states with and without integrated care programs for dually eligible individuals to increase access to needed supports and services, care coordination, and integrated care programs. We expect that states and rural communities will use the toolkit as a foundation for mapping a holistic plan to advance access to care coordination and integrated programs for dually eligible individuals residing in rural communities. Other states may employ contractual tools listed in the toolkit to expand access to providers and new services; strengthen partnerships among entities serving the community such as community-based organizations, providers, and health plans; and increase community-wide accountability for meeting dually eligible individuals’ whole person-centered needs. The toolkit is scheduled for an early 2023 release.

Link to Health Affairs article.

HMA consultants pen Health Affairs blog post, “Advancing Health Equity And Integrated Care For Rural Dual Eligibles”

HMA Consultants Ellen Breslin, Samantha Di PaolaSusan McGeehanRebecca Kellenberg, and Andrea Maresca recently wrote the Health Affairs blog post, “Advancing Health Equity And Integrated Care For Rural Dual Eligibles.”

This article was the latest in the Health Affairs Forefront series, Medicare and Medicaid Integration which features analysis, proposals, and commentary that inform policies on the state and federal levels to advance integrated care for those dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

Read the full article here.

HMA perspectives on the 2022 federal policy landscape

This week, our In Focus section looks at the current federal policy landscape and trends and the legislative outlook for the remainder of 2022 and beyond. Experts from HMA continue to monitor developments in this area and provide additional updates as more information becomes available.

Legislative Branch

To date in 2022, Congress passed multiple comprehensive bills, including the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which was signed by President Biden on August 16, 2022. The IRA extends Exchange plan premium tax subsidies through 2025, institutes an out-of-pocket drug spending cap for Medicare beneficiaries, expands Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP coverage protections for certain vaccines, allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and implements a penalty payment in the Medicare program for prescription drug prices that rise faster than the rate of inflation.

Going forward, stakeholders have an extensive list of immediate Medicare payment issues for Congress to tackle while lawmakers continue to consider fundamental reforms to the program. Priorities include mitigating Medicare payment reductions scheduled for 2023; providing relief to address inflationary cost pressures; extending the 5 percent bonus for physicians participating in Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs), which expires at the end of 2022 for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs); and permanently expanding telehealth access and payment policies after the federal COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration expires. Many stakeholder groups are also urging the Senate to act on the House-approved legislation, Improving Seniors Timely Access to Care Act (H.R. 3173), to reform Medicare Advantage prior authorization policies.

Congress did not include major Medicaid proposals in the Inflation Reduction Act. Medicaid stakeholders want Congress to revisit certain Medicaid policies in one of the remaining legislative vehicles this year. Significant proposals of interest include closing the Medicaid coverage gap in non-expansion states, enhanced coverage for justice involved populations, and expanding support for home and community-based services (HCBS). States and some stakeholders have also sought more certainty in the timing and guardrails for ending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) policy that links enhanced federal Medicaid funding with the requirement for continuous Medicaid coverage.

Congressional leaders and key influencers are laying the groundwork for 2023 legislative efforts. Congress is likely to defer action on most major legislative issues until after the November mid-terms, including finalizing federal fiscal year 2023 funding for most departments. A change in control of either or both chambers of Congress will likely lead to greater scrutiny of the Biden Administration’s health care policies and actions, which have largely gone untested by this Congress.

Executive Branch

Executive orders have been a major source in driving federal workstreams in 2022. Following enactment of several major bills, implementation responsibilities have shifted to the Executive Branch and stakeholders will have multiple opportunities to further shape and support new programs, regulatory and policy updates, and funding opportunities. Executive orders passed include:

  • Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, January 21, 2021
  • Promoting Competition in the American Economy, July 9, 2021
  • Improving the Customer Experience, December 13, 2021
  • Access to Affordable, Quality Health Coverage, April 5, 2022
  • Equality for LGBTQI Individuals, June 15, 2022
  • Protecting Access to Reproductive Healthcare Services, July 8, 2022

The Administration will continue to address COVID-19 emergency needs while stepping up efforts to support states, health plans, providers and other stakeholders as they prepare for the post-COVID environment. The current PHE declaration expires October 13, 2022, but since HHS has not signaled that it plans to end the PHE in October, another extension is likely until January 11, 2023. The next advance notification about the end of the PHE would be Nov. 12, 2022. Once the PHE declaration expires, numerous Medicare and Medicaid, TANF, and SNAP flexibilities will end, including Medicaid’s continuous coverage requirement and certain telehealth flexibilities, among others. Additional federal agency guidance is expected to support post-PHE transitions.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to advance new policy direction across several service and delivery areas, including strengthening long-term services and support and innovations via Section 1115 demonstration programs. CMS is expected to approve transformational 1115 proposals in additional states. Several state proposals focus, in part, on building capacity among local and regional entities and community-based organizations to address social drivers of health. Many state proposals are also strengthening behavioral health delivery systems and seek to meet enrollees’ urgent behavioral health needs. Additionally will want to monitor CMS’ regulatory efforts to align and strengthen managed care and fee-for-service (FFS) access and network adequacy policies as well as updates to the agency’s in lieu of services policy in managed care programs.

The Administration is also expected to accelerate work on its top policy priorities and regulatory agenda in advance of the next Presidential election, and this will require ongoing engagement among health care stakeholders.

For additional information on these and other policies, please contact Andrea MarescaAmy BassanoZach GaumerJon Kromm, or Kevin Kirby.

How can Medicare and Medicaid providers utilize CMS’ COVID-19 roadmap?

On August 18, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a roadmap to support healthcare providers with preparing for the eventual end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration. CMS also published a series of fact sheets summarizing the status of Medicare Blanket waivers and flexibilities by provider type as well as flexibilities applicable to the Medicaid providers and stakeholders.

In its announcement, CMS expressed concern that the continued PHE flexibilities could contribute to further decline in patient, resident, and client safety beyond what has already been observed. As a result, the agency is cautiously working to balance ongoing PHE needs while conveying more urgency for providers to prepare for the eventual end of the PHE flexibilities and waivers.

CMS has already ended certain flexibilities and waivers. The agency could phase out other flexibilities as it prepares to let the PHE declaration lapse. This means that providers and health plans should act now to assess flexibilities and waivers in use and develop a plan to transition to post-PHE environment.

Phase-out of COVID-19 Flexibilities

During the COVID-19 PHE, CMS has utilized Medicare and Medicaid waivers and flexibilities extensively. For example, Medicare has not enforced certain federal requirements during this time to allow hospitals to utilize off-site locations to screen and treat patients when needed as well as to minimize certain reporting requirements. The agency’s flexibilities also have accelerated adoption of telehealth and audio only services, particularly for behavioral health services.

Medicare and Medicaid providers across the states utilized PHE flexibilities to varying degrees, in part depending on experiences in individual communities, capacity, and other provider specific factors. Additionally, over the course of the PHE health plan and provider staffing and workflows have changed dramatically. This means health plans and providers will need a tailored plan to support the transition to the post PHE environment.

HMA’s experts are working with hospitals, health systems, clinics, and other providers as well as health plans on the steps they need to take now to prepare for multiple transitions. Our experts identified six immediate steps that Medicare and Medicaid plans and providers can be undertaking now to ensure they can effectively return to normal operations, including:  

  • Review performance on the patient and clinician safety metrics cited in the new CMS resources. In instances where providers have gaps and suboptimal safety and quality outcomes they will need assistance developing and implementing mitigation and quality improvement plans.
  • Utilize CMS’ tailored fact sheets to identify specific flexibilities and waivers in use now and the “normal” federal regulations that will be in effect once the PHE lapses. This assessment should include the blanket waivers and provider specific flexibilities, including:
    • Flexibilities around the requirements and timing for practitioner training
    • Expansion of allowable sites of service that permitted more expansive use of telehealth and virtual services as well as screening and treatment provided at alternative sites
    • Relaxation of federal requirements pertaining to surge capacity protocols
    • Flexibilities for staffing requirements, including medical records departments, nursing facilities, among others
    • Waiver of requirement for hospitals to submit occupational mix surveys and to have a utilization review plan with a UR committee focused on services furnished to Medicare and Medicaid enrollees
    • Applicable of the Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances Policy in Medicare’s Shared Savings Program and use of other flexibilities for MSSP Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs)
    • Non enforcement of certain physician self-referral laws
    • Waiver of numerous reporting requirements including those pertaining to verbal orders, discharge planning, HEDIS and STARs measure reporting, among others
  • Project impact of ending Medicaid’s continuous coverage policy and support individuals with actions they may need to take at the end of the PHE. Once the PHE ends, Medicaid’s enhanced federal funding for states and continuous coverage policy will end. HMA is working with health plans, providers and other stakeholders to project how this change will impact the enrollment and payer mix on state and local levels. Additionally, patients and their caregivers will need support from plans, providers, and consumer groups to ensure they renew their coverage or transition to other coverage programs when needed.HMA’s experts have written extensively about our work to support the Medicaid unwinding activities here and here.
  • Develop a plan to transition from “PHE” to “post-PHE” expectations that is informed by the assessment of flexibilities in use. Key components of the plan include:
    • Anticipated resource needs to reflect changes in staffing and workflows during the PHE
    • Articulation of specific compliance procedures and regular reporting requirements that will resume and the process for this transition
    • Develop training and education opportunities for staff that may be new or need refresher on normal policies and procedures as well as timeframes for making these changes
  • Update budgets projections to account for changes in reimbursement rates for certain services post-PHE. Certain reimbursement amounts and payment methodologies will change post-PHE, such as payment for administering the COVID-19 vaccine in a Medicare patient’s home among other changes. Providers will need to project the financial impact of these payment changes and update coding and billing manuals and procedures where applicable.
  • Build strategies to sustain changes to care models implemented during the COVID-19 PHE while also addressing health disparities. Some providers and facilities adopted care models and modified existing ones during the PHE that may have improved patient outcomes and experiences, maximized expertise of practitioners, and improved value-based care. For example, some providers have embraced the Medicare Hospital Without Walls Initiative and will need to assess their options as some of those flexibilities are phased out. Other federal opportunities have newly emerged during the pandemic, such as the Rural Emergency Hospital designation and pending changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

What’s Next

The COVID-19 PHE declaration next expires on October 12, 2022. While a renewal of the PHE declaration is possible into early 2023, providers should be using this time to prepare for resumption of normal policies and procedures.

The expiration of PHE flexibilities and waivers are not, however, happening in a vacuum. Providers need to make this transition amidst a dynamic healthcare sector with high expectations for continuous improvement in quality, patient experiences, and value. During this transitional period HMA’s experts are working with health plans and providers to develop or revisit strategic plans and investments to refocus attention on improving models of care and value-based payment approaches, including strategies that will help mitigate health disparities.

For questions, please contact Melinda Estep, Mary Walter, and Andrea Maresca.

Congress approves major health care proposals but the work is just beginning for CMS and stakeholders

On August 7, 2022, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (the IRA). The House approved the bill on August 12, and President Biden is expected to sign the IRA into law in the coming weeks.

The IRA addresses a range of policy topics across health care climate, energy, and taxation. Regarding health care, the IRA makes structural changes to the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit and provides new authority for the Medicare program to address the pricing of prescription drugs in the Part B and Part D programs. The measure also extends the temporary enhanced assistance for health coverage purchased from Marketplaces, which was first approved in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In addition, the IRA updates vaccine coverage policies in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 

While the IRA provides a critical framework for the structural changes to the nation’s largest public health insurance programs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be responsible for building out the policy and operational components necessary to support implementation.  

Notably, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will lead implementation of the IRA’s Medicare and Marketplace provisions. The changes to the Part D benefit and the development of entirely new processes and policies to support the IRA’s drug pricing provisions require significant resources and consideration of direct as well as indirect impacts for the health care market. The agency can use a variety of regulatory tools to support implementation, including issuing standalone Requests for Information (RFIs), convening stakeholder engagement sessions, updating policy manuals, and undertaking notice and comment via the formal rulemaking process, among others.

CMS’ strategic plan emphasizes the value of stakeholder engagement, and this is likely to lead to multiple opportunities for public input, particularly as CMS implements the new Medicare provisions of the IRA. For example, the agency must develop the policy parameters for reforming the Part D benefit design and is likely to seek input from Medicare Advantage (MA) and MA Prescription Drug Plans (MA-PDPs), providers, vendors, and consumer advocacy groups among others to inform its approach. CMS will also need input from the stakeholder community as it establishes the timelines, reporting, and negotiating mechanisms impacting Part B and D prescription drugs pricing and how it will implement the inflation penalty policies outlined in the IRA.

The IRA’s extension of the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) enhanced eligibility for premium assistance through 2025 provides more near certainty around eligibility and enrollment for this market. This may led to renewed momentum for CMS to engage with states and stakeholders on Marketplace policies and structures.

Many of the details around how the IRA’s health care policies will be implemented are unknown at this time. Stakeholders will want to monitor CMS’ progress and provide feedback with data-informed analysis and concrete and practical recommendations as these opportunities are announced. 

An overview of many of the IRA’s health care provisions follows. Our team of experts can provide tailored analysis and support to clients as they begin to unpack the full breadth of the IRA’s policy changes and implications for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, providers, vendors, consumer advocacy groups and other stakeholders.

  • Part B and Part D Drug Pricing. Requires the Secretary of HHS to select a list of drugs eligible for negotiation, and enter into agreements with select manufacturers, negotiating a “maximum fair price” (MFP) for each selected drug in the Medicare program. The Secretary is required to negotiate on a certain number of drugs per year, 10 drugs in 2026; 15 drugs in 2027 and 2028, and 20 drugs in 2029 and subsequent years.  The number of drugs negotiated will accumulate over the years, such that up to 60 drugs could be negotiated by 2029.  Manufacturers who are not in compliance will face an excise tax that could far exceed the cost of drugs sold over time and civil monetary penalties.
  • Prescription Drug Inflation Rebates. Requires manufacturers to pay rebates for Medicare Part B and D drugs with prices rising faster than inflation. The rebate calculation would be based on units and pricing in Medicare and would determine an inflation-adjusted payment amount based on the percentage by which the price exceeds the inflation benchmark, as determined by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). If a manufacturer fails to pay the rebate, then they would be subject to a civil monetary penalty either equal to or at least 125 percent of the rebate amount for the quarter.
    • The Part D inflation rebate takes effect October 2022 for Part D drugs and biologics.
    • The Part B inflation rebate begins January 2023 for single-source drugs or biologics and certain biosimilar products. The IRA also includes an inflation growth cap on beneficiary coinsurance in Part B, beginning April 2023.
  • Part B Payment for Biosimilar Biological Products. Amends Medicare’s Average Sales Price (ASP) payment methodology in cases where the ASP during the first quarter of sales is unavailable to establish a payment rate for biosimilars. The IRA also updates Medicare Part B reimbursement for certain biosimilar products for a five-year period beginning on October 1, 2022, by increasing the add-on payment from six percent of the reference product’s ASP to eight percent of the reference product ASP.
  • Medicare Part D Assistance for Beneficiaries and Benefit Design. Increases the qualifying income amount (federal poverty level (FPL)) for the full Low-Income Subsidies (LIS) under Part D, from 135 percent of the FPL to 150 percent of the FPL, starting in 2024. The IRA also adjusts the cost-sharing requirements in the Part D benefit by:
    • Eliminating cost sharing in the catastrophic phase of the benefit in 2024;
    • Setting an annual out-of-pocket (OOP) limit for enrollees at $2,000 beginning in 2025;
    • Capping monthly premium increases for a prescription drug plan in 2024 through 2029 at six percent per year.  The Secretary may make a one-time adjustment to the beneficiary Part D premium contribution percentage in 2030 to ensure longer-term beneficiary premium reduction; and  
    • Adjusting the benefit coverage liabilities for the initial coverage phase and catastrophic coverage phase.
  • Coverage for Insulin. Requires Medicare to cover select insulin products and not apply a deductible or impose cost-sharing more than $35 or 25 percent of the negotiated price (including all discounts) for a 30-day supply. Beginning in July 2023, Medicare must exempt from beneficiary deductibles insulin provided through durable medical equipment (DME) and ensure that coinsurance for a month’s supply of insulin administered through DME does not exceed $35. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) will be able to cover selected insulin products with no deductible without impacting their status as a HDHP, starting in 2023.
  • Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Coverage for Vaccines. Requires full coverage of Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)-recommended adult vaccines under Medicaid and CHIP without cost-sharing. The IRA also increases the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) by one percentage point, for adult medical assistance for such vaccines and their administration, during the first eight fiscal quarters on or after the date of the IRA’s enactment.
    • Requires Medicare Part D provide full coverage without cost sharing of ACIP-recommended adult vaccines for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2023.
  • Enhanced Temporary Assistance for Marketplace Coverage. Extends the ARPA’s expansion of Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC) eligibility and amounts through 2025. ARPA modified the affordability percentages used for the calculation of APTC to increase subsidy amounts for individuals eligible for assistance.

Experts from HMA and HMA companies are supporting clients as they begin to strategize and formulate initial recommendations for federal agencies and plan for implementation.  We will continue to monitor developments in this area and provide additional updates as more information becomes available. 

CMS Requests Input on Improving Medicare Advantage: Stakeholders Have a Brief Window to Offer Ideas to Inform Agency’s Initial Proposals

This week, our In Focus section reviews the request for information (RFI) on ways to strengthen the Medicare Advantage (MA) program, released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on July 28, 2022. CMS’s intent is to better align the MA program with the agency’s Vision for Medicare and the CMS Strategic Pillars. The agency is strongly emphasizing the importance of stakeholder comments for this process. This openness to feedback presents MA plans, providers, and other stakeholders an opportunity to inform the agency’s early thinking as it considers potential regulatory actions impacting supplemental benefits, value-based contracting arrangements, risk adjustment, prior authorization, and marketing among other issues.

The questions are grouped into five categories. Throughout each section CMS seeks to better understand operational issues and insights from past or ongoing experiences tackling health equity issues in states and communities. Below we describe several of the questions and themes within each category:

  1. Advance Health Equity: This extensive set of questions is intended help CMS better understand MA plans’ specific programs, screenings, benefits, and data that are components of addressing health equity and how the agency can better ensure that all MA enrollees receive the care they need. CMS also is seeking to better understand the collaborations and reimbursement arrangements between MA plans and providers that partner with community-based organizations, particularly as these arrangements become more central to efforts to address social drivers of health. The agency continues to focus on the dual eligible population, and asks specifically how it can support efforts by Special Needs Plans to provide targeted, coordinated care for enrollees.
  2. Expand Access: Coverage and Care: In this section CMS explores MA plans’ marketing efforts, including the tools beneficiaries use and how plans differentiate themselves to beneficiaries, as well as factors for building and changing plan networks. Additionally, CMS poses many questions about supplemental benefits, including questions about how MA plans design supplemental benefits, how they inform beneficiaries about these benefits and whether there are evaluations or data elements that are used. CMS also anticipates receiving information on how it can ensure that enrollees have access to the covered behavioral health services they need, access and use of telehealth services.
  3. Drive Innovation to Promote Person-Centered Care: Last year, CMS committed to ensuring that 100 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were in accountable care relationships by 2030. This will require changes for more than 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries. To date, much of the attention around this goal has been focused on fee-for-services arrangement. With this RFI, CMS is turning its attention to value-based arrangements in MA. Specifically, it asks stakeholders about the factors driving MA plans and providers participating in value-based contracting. The agency wants to better understand the data that is crucial for value-based contracting and the experiences of MA plans in trying to align with value-based contracting in other Medicare programs/models, Medicaid, and the commercial payers. Stakeholders also have an opportunity to provide input on how CMS could better support efforts of MA plans and providers to appropriately and effectively collect, transmit, and use appropriate data as well as potential new tops of payment or service delivery models that could be tested.
  4. Support Affordability and Sustainability: This set of questions turns to payment and competition in the marketplace. Specifically, the agency asks for input on potential methodologies to ensure risk adjustment is accurate and sustainable. CMS also wants to understand how stakeholders are thinking about the relationship between risk adjustment and health equity and addressing social determinants of health SDOH. The agency also wants to consider specific local market barriers to entry and advantages and disadvantages in different markets.
  5. Engage Partners: This group of questions provides an opportunity for stakeholders to address information gaps for Medicare beneficiaries. The agency also is interested in how it could promote collaboration among MA stakeholders.

Why It Matters:

As the urgent issues with the pandemic continue to ease, CMS is turning its attention to proposals that could help refocus the Medicare program, including Medicare Advantage, to address health equity, quality, and affordability.

Stakeholders will want to carefully consider how they could use their RFI responses to shape the agency’s potential future proposals. Health plans, providers, community organizations, and vendors have an opportunity to highlight concepts, tools, and other innovations that have proven successful and scalable.

Specific concrete examples of the impact on Medicare beneficiaries would be highly valued by the agency. It will also be important to focus responses on regulatory policy changes and actions that CMS can advance with its existing authority.

HMA experts can assist stakeholders with their responses on these impactful issues including but not limited to:

  • Innovations stakeholders have tried, barriers to concepts and needs they have identified, and other ideas on flexibilities for local partnerships and technology.
  • Approaches to improve the MA experience for the Medicare and Medicaid dually eligible population and rural communities.
  • New risk adjustment methods.
  • Potential improvements to the MA quality program.
  • Strategies for improving the beneficiary enrollment process.
  • The value and opportunity of using technology and telehealth and how these impact the design of provider networks.
  • Framing the factors and dynamics around MA plan and provider value-based contracting.

What’s Next

CMS is accepting comments on this RFI until August 31, 2022. The agency could use input it receives to develop proposals for at least the next two regular rulemaking cycles for the Medicare Advantage program, issue policy proposals outside of the normal rulemaking, or both.

HMA experts are available to provide strategic assistance with framing and developing responses as well as analysis to reinforce points and recommendations to the agency for this expedited RFI response timeline.

For questions please contact Amy Bassano, Managing Director, Medicare; Julie Faulhaber, Managing Director, Medicare and Dual Eligibles; Zach Gaumer, Principal; Andrea Maresca, Principal.

Center for Medicare Director Meena Seshamani to Deliver Virtual Keynote Address on The Future of Medicare Value-Based Payments at HMA Conference in Chicago, October 10-11

Meena Seshamani, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will deliver a virtual keynote address on The Future of Medicare Value-Based Payments at the HMA conference, October 10-11, 2022, at the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park.

To register, visit https://conference.healthmanagement.com/.  For details on sponsorships and group discounts, contact Carl Mercurio, cmercurio@healthmanagement.com.

The overall theme of this year’s conference is How Medicaid, Medicare, and Other Publicly Sponsored Programs Are Shaping the Future of Healthcare in a Time of Crisis. More than 40 speakers are confirmed, and more than 400 people are expected to attend.

Medicare Hospital Outpatient Rule Proposes Details for New Rural Emergency Hospitals, Creates New Questions for Other Payment Policies

Today’s blog is the next in our series highlighting significant developments in the Medicare program. In our first article we covered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) calendar year 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) proposed rule. This week we are highlighting a few key policy developments in the proposed rule that governs payment levels and policy updates for hospital outpatient departments and ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

As we discussed last week, this is a pivotal moment for the Biden Administration’s Medicare policy agenda. Because the rulemaking cycle takes about 18 months, CMS needs to begin the process of collecting input on new proposals this year if it intends to finalize proposals before the end of the President’s first term. Additionally, the CY2023 rule represents an important transition year for CMS as it navigates the COVID-19 related anomalies in the data used to calculate payment levels.

Health care plans, providers, and facilities are continuing to transition to value based payment strategies, making it increasingly important to assess the entire environment of Medicare payment rules as these payment systems are the basis of financial benchmarks, quality incentives, and other key components of value-based payments. In addition, these payment rules provide insight into the cost pressures, incentives, and areas of misalignment throughout the health care system.

HMA experts are analyzing and closely tracking several issues in the CY 2023 hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) proposed rule. A brief summary of some of the most important proposed policy changes for the outpatient hospital setting are included below and highlight many of the Administration’s top health care priorities.

  1. Policies to sustain access and address health disparities in rural communities.
  2. Enhancing Medicare’s behavioral health payment and access policies beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  3. Uncertainty in the hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS) rate increase due to future implementation of changes in 340B payment.
  4. Increasing transparency of consolidation and mergers in the marketplace to help advance quality and affordability.

The remainder of our post delves into these issues and other notable proposals. Our post also includes analysis of the implications of these policies for stakeholders deserving.

Key Action Items for Stakeholders

The CY 2023 OPPS Proposed Rule was published on July 15, 2022, and all comments from stakeholders are due to CMS by September 13, 2022. We anticipate CMS will release their Final Rule in late fall 2022, before the new rules are implemented January 1, 2023.

The public comment period is also an important window of opportunity during which stakeholders can analyze the impact of CMS’s proposed policies, assess the proposals against other applicable pending federal and state payment policies, and consider how the proposals may impact business decisions. Further, the public comment period is essential for CMS to deepen its understanding of the impact of its policies on stakeholders. The agency benefits from hearing stakeholder’s perspectives, viewing their quantitative and legal analyses, and understanding the general stakeholder environment.

Rural Emergency Hospitals: Definition and Payment

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA) established a new provider type called Rural Emergency Hospitals (REHs) beginning in 2023. REHs are facilities that convert from either a critical access hospital (CAH) or a rural hospital with less than 50 beds, by choosing to close their inpatient capacity. Instead, these facilities provide emergency department services, outpatient services, post-hospital extended care services, and other defined services.

While the statute specifies many foundational aspects of REHs, CMS was given the authority to further define REH eligibility status and to specify the unique reimbursement mechanisms for REHs. All of these components will be vital to a provider or entity’s decision to pursue REH status.

On June 30, CMS released the first component: Conditions of Participation (CoPs) for REHs, which defined REH status within the Medicare program. Within the CY 2023 OPPS Proposed Rule CMS proposed to define reimbursement and several other key components of REHs. Below we detail the key elements of REH reimbursement. In HMA’s blog next week we will offer greater detail on the COP and reimbursement policies.

REH policies proposed in the CY 2023 OPPS Proposed Rule:

  • REHs will receive a monthly facility payment of approximately $268,000 (or more than $3 million per year) beginning in CY 2023. 
  • REHs will receive a 5 percent payment increase for all services covered under the Medicare OPPS.  
  • REHs may provide outpatient services that are not otherwise paid under the OPPS (e.g., the Clinical Lab Fee Schedule) as well as post-hospital extended care services furnished in a unit of the facility that is a distinct part of the facility licensed as a skilled nursing facility (SNF).
  • Beneficiaries served at REHs will not be charged a copayment on the additional 5 percent OPPS payments, but standard OPPS cost-sharing requirements would still apply.
  • REHs must comply with all applicable provider enrollment provisions in order to enroll in Medicare.
  • REHs will have a unique quality reporting program distinct to REHs, in order to reduce reporting burden on these smaller facilities. CMS seeks feedback from stakeholders on the measures used for the REH quality reporting program.
  • REHs will be provided an exception from the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the “Stark Law”).

Takeaway: The creation of REHs is both a significant change for the Medicare program and potentially a unique opportunity for small rural hospitals and health systems which own/operate rural hospitals. The Congress and CMS believe this model will address access to care concerns and health disparities present in rural communities. Many assert that under the REH approach, hospitals and health system providers serving rural communities may have greater flexibility to support the rural communities they serve.

Look for our additional analysis of the set of proposed REH policies next week.

Mental Health Services Furnished Remotely by Hospital Staff

For CY 2023, CMS proposes several updates to its remote services policy to plan for a transition from temporary policies enacted during the PHE to when the PHE is declared over. CMS proposes to:

  • Allow clinical staff of a hospital to conduct remote mental health and substance abuse services and to designate these services as hospital outpatient department services for purposes of reimbursement. Patients will be permitted to be in the homes and hospital clinical staff must conduct the service from inside the hospital facility. Further, CMS proposes new hospital outpatient codes for these services, and CMS will not permit these outpatient services to be conducted (and billed) in tandem with physician fee schedule services.
  • The agency will require an in-person service within 6 months prior to the initiation of the remote service and then every 12 months thereafter. CMS will allow exceptions to the in-person visit requirement based on beneficiary circumstances.
  • The agency is also proposing that audio-only interactive telecommunications systems may be used to furnish these services when the beneficiary is not capable of, or does not consent to, the use of two-way, audio/video technology.

Takeaway: As CMS wrote in the proposed rule, many beneficiaries may be receiving mental health services in their homes from hospital or critical access hospital staff during the COVID-19 PHE. The policy update could help minimize disruptions in continuity of care that might otherwise occur following the end of the PHE. The proposals also reflect CMS’ desire to adapt to changing beneficiary preferences and new methods of providing services that have evolved during the COVID-19 PHE.

Hospitals and health systems may benefit from these proposals because it will maintain and expand patient-provider access points and care coordination after the patient has left the hospital. Stakeholders will need to continue to assess beneficiary utilization of services furnished remotely, potential staffing changes to support these services, and community-specific access needs for remote mental health services. Stakeholders may have important perspectives to offer CMS through the regulatory comment proceed as the agency determines whether to finalize a requirement that hospital clinical staff be physically located in the hospital when furnishing services remotely using communications technology.

Payment Policies  

CMS is proposing to update OPPS payment rates for hospitals and ASCs that meet their respective applicable quality reporting requirements by 2.7 percent. This update reflects the following factors:

  • Projected hospital market basket percentage increase of 3.1 percent; and  
  • A 0.4 percentage point reduction for projected multifactor productivity.

In the context of the OPPS, CMS proposes to increase the OPPS conversation factor by 2.7 percent from CY 2022 to CY 2023, from $84.18 to $86.79. CMS estimates this will increase OPPS payments to providers from CY 2022 to CY 2023 by $1.8 billion.

In the context of ASCs, CMS estimates a proposed increase to the ASC conversation factor by 2.7 percent from CY 2022 to CY 2023, from $49.91 to $51.31. CMS estimates this change will increase industry-wide payments from CY 2022 to CY 2023 by $130 million. In addition, CY 2023 is the final year in which CMS will apply the productivity-adjusted hospital market basket update to ASC payment system rates for an interim period of 5 years (CY 2019 through CY 2023).

Consistent with CMS’s methods for updating other Medicare prospective payment systems during the 2023 regulatory cycle, the agency proposes to use claims data from CY 2021 and hospital cost report data from the June 2020 Healthcare Cost Report Information System (HCRIS) to update payment rates for CY 2023. Some stakeholders have expressed concern during this regulatory cycle that claims data continue to include anomalous trends influenced by covid cases and the cost data do not accurately reflect covid-related costs because the data primarily are associated with pre-COVID time period. 

340B Payment Policy

CMS’s proposed rule acknowledges the recent Supreme Court decision in American Hospital Association v. Becerra (No. 20-1114, 2022 WL 2135490), which will have a significant impact on the 340B program. However, given the recency of this decision the agency formally proposed to maintain the current payment rate of Average Sale Price (ASP) minus 22.5 percent for drugs and biologics acquired through the 340B program.

In response to the decision, CMS stated that the agency will adjust 340B payment rates within the CY 2023 final rule. In its recent ruling, the Supreme Court held that HHS may not vary payment rates for drugs and biologicals among groups of hospitals without having surveyed hospitals’ acquisition costs. The decision relates to payment rates for CYs 2018 and 2019 but has implications for the CY 2023 rates.

CMS also stated that it anticipates applying a 340B payment rate of ASP plus 6 percent for specified drugs and biologics in the CY 2023 final rule. This would likely result in a budget neutrality reduction approaching 5% in the OPPS conversion factor.

Takeaway: Hospitals and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) receiving 340B reimbursements will view the court ruling and potential increase to 340B payment rates as positive. However, it remains unclear at what exact level 340B payments will be set. Therefore, stakeholders may want to comment on the CY2023 policy options CMS is considering. Additionally, stakeholders should plan for CMS to conduct a survey of acquisition costs as it considers newly proposing changes to the payment rates. It remains possible that CMS will continue to apply the 340B cut for 2023 in light of a 2020 survey of hospital acquisition cost that it conducted. Future budget neutrality adjustments may also be necessary for any payments that are returned to hospitals due to the overturning of the 340B cut for 2018 and 2019.

Additional Issues for Stakeholder Consideration

In addition to the financing and policy issues discussed above, the wide-ranging rule contains numerous other policy proposals with direct and indirect implications on Medicare providers, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. Table 1 provides a snapshot of some of the issues that warrant further consideration.

 Table 1. Other Notable Proposed Changes Impacting Health Care Providers and Stakeholders

TopicSummary
Provider TransparencyCMS issues a request for information linked to the President’s July 2021 Executive Order (E.O.) on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. CMS currently manages a database of nursing homeowners and operators, and the agency has begun to leverage that data to support hospital and nursing home patients and their families. The agency solicits feedback on whether it should release additional data that is already being collected “to help identify the impact of provider mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and changes in ownership on the affordability and availability of medical care.” CMS also invites comments on whether the agency should release similar data for other types of providers. The solicitation represents the next phase in CMS’ expansive portfolio of work to address the impact of market consolidation on health care prices, consumer costs, and quality in the healthcare industry writ large. Medicare providers and stakeholders should be tracking how federal health care regulators, including CMS, are working to respond to the E.O. There is a strong likelihood that CMS will begin to include data on other types of providers and stakeholders will need to understand this shifting landscape and how it could impact their current and potential future business decisions.
SaaSCMS discusses its desire to address the novel and evolving nature of Software as a medical Service (Saas) procedures. The agency is seeking comments on the specific payment approach we might use for these services under the OPPS as SaaS-type technology becomes more widespread. We are also concerned about the potential for bias in algorithms and predictive modeling, and are seeking comments on how we could encourage software developers to prevent or mitigate the possibility of bias in new applications of this technology.
Inpatient Only ListRemoves ten services from the Inpatient Only (IPO) list.While the IPO list has previously been targeted for major reforms, this year’s narrower set of proposed changes signal CMS’ is deprioritizing IPO list reform.  
Payment for surgical N95 RespiratorsCMS recognizes that hospitals may incur additional costs when purchasing domestic NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators. CMS is proposing payment adjustments under the IPPS and OPPS that would reflect, and offset, the additional marginal resource costs that hospitals face in procuring domestically made NIOSH-approved surgical N95 respirators. Under this proposal, these payments would be provided biweekly as interim lump-sum payments to the hospital and would be reconciled at cost report settlement. The rule outlines the information providers need to include on the cost report to determine payments for cost reporting periods beginning on or after January 1, 2023.
Ambulatory Surgery CentersCMS requests stakeholder feedback on methods that could be implemented to collect cost data from ASCs that minimize reporting burden.This could be the beginning of a process to implement cost reports for ASCs.

The HMA Medicare team will continue to analyze these proposed changes. We have the depth and breadth of expertise to assist with tailored analysis, to model policy impacts, and to support the drafting of comment letters to this rule.

CMS Picks Up the Pace on Transforming the Medicare Landscape

Over the course of three weeks CMS has made a series of Medicare announcements that arguably contain the most sweeping changes to the Medicare program proposed thus far by the Biden Administration. With final Medicare payment rules on the horizon, CMS is poised to further the Biden Administration’s directional imprint on the Medicare program. The recent releases include:

  • A new opportunity focused on rural hospitals designed to preserve –and likely expand – access to services in rural communities;
  • A proposed payment and policy rule for outpatient and ambulatory care services also lays the groundwork for new transparency and competition initiatives;
  • Significant updates to most aspects of Medicare’s accountable care organizations; and
  • New opportunities to support oncology providers in moving towards a whole person approach to services through the Enhancing Oncology Model.

For this blog our HMA experts focus on the 2,000+ page Calendar Year (CY) 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) proposed rule released to the public on July 7, 2022. The Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and its accompanying proposed policy changes is a significant tool CMS uses to advance annual updates in reimbursement policy and to consider other policy changes in traditional Medicare that have implications for the program writ large.

Generally, in the CY 2023 proposed rule the Administration is continuing to broaden and deepen the way it applies its health equity framework to the entirety of the proposals, strengthens access to behavioral health services, and reinvigorates value-based care through the Medicare Shared Savings Program’s (MSSP) Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) structure.

The rule includes a myriad of other policy proposals. We highlight a few of the key ones below. For example, CMS must make updates to the physician fee schedule conversion factor which has ripple effects throughout the Medicare program. The agency is also proposing updates to reimbursement for certain telehealth services and coverage enhancements for hearing and dental services, among many others proposals.

Key Action Items for Stakeholders

All comments to the rule are due to CMS by September 6, 2022. CMS plans to publish the final rule in late fall 2022.

The public comment opportunity is essential for CMS to deepen its understanding of the impact of the proposals. The agency considers stakeholders’ concerns, questions, and other feedback as it makes decisions on which proposals to finalize, modifications to the proposals, or to defer implementation.

This is also an important window of opportunity during which stakeholders can analyze the impact of the proposals and the business decisions these may require, plan advocacy around the proposed changes, and prepare for implementation which generally will occur on January 1, 2023.

Many leading national provider organizations are making their concerns with the annual payment update a central piece of their advocacy agenda in Congress. These concerns will add to the long list of structural issues that Congress is expected to debate leading up to and well after this year’s mid-term elections. However, providers still need to weigh the inflation pressures and uncertainty surrounding Congress’ ability to intervene with new opportunities in the Medicare program and Medicare Advantage market.

Medicare Shared Savings Program

CMS proposes significant changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), which aredesigned to accelerate provider and Medicare beneficiary participation in accountable relationships. Last year, CMS established a goal of all Medicare beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care by 2030. These proposals are designed to make further progress on achieving that goal. First, CMS proposes several changes to MSSP which respond to criticisms that the program is not sufficiently flexible to support Medicare providers who may have different levels of sophistication with respect to risk-sharing and available capital for practice transformation. Additionally, it reflects federal officials understanding of the impact social care services can have on Medicare beneficiary health and well-being.

Proposed changes to the MSSP include the following:

  • Investment in New Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs): CMS proposes to provide a one-time fixed payment of $250,000 and quarterly payments for the first two years of the 5-year agreement period for certain ACOs. Eligible ACOs are those that are low revenue ACOs, inexperienced with performance-based risk Medicare ACO initiatives, new to MSSP and that serve underserved populations.
    • The initial application cycle to apply for advance investment payments will occur during CY 2023 for a January 1, 2024, start date.
    • The advance investment payments would increase when more beneficiaries who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid or who live in areas with high deprivation or both, are assigned to the ACO.
    • The advance investment payments would be recouped once the ACO begins to achieve shared savings in their current agreement period and in their next agreement period, if a balance persists. If the ACO doesn’t achieve shared savings, CMS would not recoup the funding.
    • Funds would be available to address the social and other needs of people with Medicare.
  • CMS would also provide greater flexibility in the progression to performance-based risk for new ACOs to ease the transition to and likelihood of success under risk arrangements. Specifically, for ACOs with agreement periods beginning on January 1, 2024, and in subsequent years, ACOs inexperienced with performance-based risk could participate a one-side risk model for up to 7 years.
  • Current ACO Participants: For performance years beginning January 1, 2023, and in subsequent years, CMS may allow certain currently participating ACOs to elect to continue in their glide path agreement.
    • CMS intends to incorporate an adjustment for prior savings that would apply in the establishment of benchmarks for renewing ACOs and re-entering ACOs
  • CMS also is proposing several changes to the benchmark methodology to better support long term participation in MSSP and less capitalized ACOs for agreement periods beginning January 1, 2024.  This includes adjusting the benchmark for prior savings and reducing the impact of the negative regional adjustment.
    • CMS also plans to include a fixed, prospectively projected administrative growth factor (referred to in this proposed rule as the Accountable Care Prospective Trend (ACPT)), into a three-way blend with national and regional growth rates to update an ACO’s historical benchmark for each performance year (PY) in the ACO’s agreement period.
  • CMS requested comments on alternative benchmarking policies: a) exclude the ACO’s own assigned beneficiaries from the assignable beneficiary population used in regional expenditure calculations, b) expand the definition of the ACO regional service area to use a larger geographic area to determine regional FFS expenditures, or c) both.
  • Beginning on January 1, 2023, and subsequent years, CMS is planning to change the all-or-nothing approach to determining an ACO’s eligibility for shared savings based on quality performance to allow for scaling of shared savings rates for ACOs that fall below the 30th/40th percentile quality standard threshold required to share in savings at the maximum sharing rate. To be eligible ACOs must meet minimum quality reporting and performance requirements.
  • CMS also plans to update MSSP quality-measurement policies, including a new health equity adjustment that would award bonus points for high quality measure performance and serving higher proportions of underserved or dually eligible beneficiaries.

Behavioral Health Changes

The CY2023 MPFS also seeks to enhance access to behavioral health services and strengthen the behavioral health model within the Medicare program. The proposals include:

  • Creating an exception to supervision requirements, allowing marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, addiction counselors, certified peer recovery specialists, and others to provide behavioral health services while being under general supervision rather than “direct” supervision.
  • Paying psychologists and social workers to help manage behavioral health needs as part of the primary care team.
  • Establishing new payments for team-based, comprehensive management and treatment of chronic pain.
  • Enhancing the ability of ACOs to address social, behavioral, and physical health care needs, by making advanced shared savings payments to new, smaller ACOs. CMS states these funds could be used to hire behavioral health practitioners and address the social needs, such as food and housing.
  • Clarifying Opioid Treatment Programs may bill Medicare for services performed by mobile units without obtaining a separate registration and increasing payment rates to Opioid Treatment Programs.

These proposed changes represent a major shift in traditional Medicare’s coverage of behavioral health services. If finalized and in combination with changes to coverage for telehealth services, these could have a meaningful impact for Medicare beneficiaries including those in rural communities. ACOs, health systems, and other providers may have greater opportunities to include behavioral health practitioners in their model of care.

Payment Issues

Payments to physicians through the PFS are proposed to decline by roughly 4 percent from CY 2022 to CY 2023. The bulk of this decline stems from CMS’s proposal to reduce the PFS conversion factor (CF) by nearly 4.5 percent.  In dollar terms the proposed 2023 CF would be $33.08, which is $1.53 lower than the 2022 CF. This policy change to the CF reflects three dynamics, two of which are changes directly mandated by the U.S. Congress:

  • Expiration of a statutory one-year 3 percent increase in payments,
  • A statutory 0 percent payment update for CY 2023, and
  • A budget neutrality adjustment across all billing codes resulting from modifications to PFS weights which increased the relative value of primary care billing codes.

Payment changes contained within the CY 2023 proposed rule result in differential impacts for individual physician service codes and physician specialties. While payment rates for many codes are proposed to decline uniformly by roughly 4 percent, payment rates for some services codes may decline more, such as for some physician inpatient hospital care codes that may decline more than 10 percent. In the context of physician specialty type, CMS estimates 5 percent payment increases on average for infectious disease and a 3 percent increases on average for internal medicine and geriatrics. By contrast, CMS estimates a 2 percent decline on average for clinical psychology and a 3 percent decline on average for radiology.   

Notable Issues for Stakeholder Consideration

In addition to the major structural and financing issues discussed above, the wide-ranging rule contains numerous other policy proposals with direct and indirect implications on Medicare providers, and beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. Table 1 provides a snapshot of some of the issues that warrant further consideration.

 Table 1. Other Notable Proposed Changes Impacting Health Care Providers and Stakeholders

TopicSummary
TelehealthThe Proposed Rule makes a number of potential changes to telehealth policies: Implements several of the policies mandated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2022, which extended telehealth flexibilities CMS adopted during the public health emergency (PHE) for 151 days after the end of the PHE. The rule also confirms Medicare telehealth services performed with dates of service occurring on or after the 152nd day after the end of the PHE will revert to pre-PHE rules and the appropriate place of service (POS) indicator will be required to be included on the claim.Permanently adds three new services to the list of reimbursable telehealth services: prolonged inpatient hospital, prolonged skilled nursing, and prolonged home services. Adds several additional services to the Medicare Telehealth Temporarily (through the end of CY 2023) adds several telehealth services: new therapy services, audiology, and new behavior assessment/treatment services. Temporarily (during PHE plus 151 days) requires practitioners to use billing modifier code ‘95’ and either provider of service code ‘02’ (not in home) or ‘10’ (home) for all telehealth services. At the end of the PHE-plus-151 days, billing requirements will revert to pre-PHE methods. Permanently (beginning in 2023) requires practitioners to use billing modifier ‘93’ for all audio-only services, and requires RHCs, FQHCs, and OTPs to use modifier ‘93’ for eligible mental health services furnished via audio-only services. However, CMS specifically did not propose to extend audio-only evaluation and management visits beyond the 151 days after the PHE. 
DentalMedicare pays for a limited number of dental services when the dental care is an integral part of a beneficiary’s medical treatment. CMS is proposing to add to the list of conditions where that may be appropriate such as dental exams and necessary treatments prior to organ transplants, cardiac valve replacements, and valvuloplasty procedures. CMS is also seeking feedback on other clinical conditions where the dental services are linked to the clinical success of the medical services.
HearingCMS is proposing to allow audiologists to perform and bill for certain diagnostic hearing tests for patients with non-acute conditions without a physician order.
Wound CareCMS is proposing several policies to update payment, coding and billing for skin substitutes which are commonly used in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers and venous leg ulcers. CMS is proposing to change the terminology of skin substitutes to ‘wound care management products’ in order to reflect how clinicians use these products, to provide a more consistent approach to coding for these products, and to treat and pay for these products as a physician supply instead of a separately paid product under the Average Sales Price methodology beginning on January 1, 2024.
MIPSCMS continues to update and refine the quality measures used in the different aspects of the programs under MIPS including the addition of certain health equity related measures.  CMS also is proposing five additional MIPS Value Pathways (MVPs) (Advancing Cancer Care, Optimal Care for Kidney Health, Optimal Care for Patients with Episodic Neurological Conditions, Supportive Care for Neurodegenerative Conditions, and Promoting Wellness) CMS also proposed several ways to reduce the burden for physicians participating in advanced alternative payment models (AAPMs) including permanently establishing the 8% minimally Generally Applicable Risk Standard for AAPM qualification and proposing to apply the eligible clinician limit to the entity participating in the medical home model rather than the parent organization.  

The HMA Medicare team will continue to analyze these proposed changes. We have the depth and breadth of expertise to assist with tailored analysis, to model policy impacts, and to support the drafting of comment letters to this rule.