In this week’s In Focus, we continue our review of Medicare developments from this summer and look ahead at Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) activities to watch for this fall.
CMS ACO Strategy Update
In a July 31, 2023, Health Affairs Forefront blog, CMS leaders outlined the agency’s plan to further accelerate the growth and accessibility of accountable care organizations (ACOs), especially for beneficiaries in rural and underserved areas. The article signals the agency’s continued commitment to increasing participation in ACOs and future policy and model initiatives that CMS could undertake to achieve those goals.
In particular, the CMS Innovation Center is considering testing models and features to support Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs in increasing investments in primary care. This initiative might include piloting ACO-based primary care models that provide prospective payments in an effort to reduce reliance on fee-for-service (FFS), support innovations in care delivery, and increase access to advanced primary care in underserved communities.
CMS leaders point to a second component of its ACO strategy in the calendar year (CY) 2024 proposed Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) rule. The proposed PFS includes technical updates to the Advance Investment Payment (AIP), which provides financial support for providers who participate in the MSSP. The proposed PFS rule also includes several opportunities for the public to inform CMS’s ongoing ACO work, including considerations for adding higher-risk participation options in the MSSP, ways to better support collaboration between ACOs and community-based organizations to meet health-related social needs, and other initiatives. HMA discussed the PFS changes in an earlier In Focus.
CMS also announced refinements to the ACO Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (REACH) Model on August 18. The agency’s three goals in making these changes are to:
- Increase predictability for model participants (e.g., policies to change certain beneficiary alignment requirements and refinements to eligibility criteria for high-need ACOs
- Protect against inappropriate risk score growth (e.g., revisions to the risk-adjustment methodology)
- Advance health equity (e.g., revisions and expansions to the health equity benchmark adjustment)
These topics are of importance to CMS across its model portfolio and are, in part, based on experience the agency has gained in running the ACO REACH model. Below is a summary of several key policy changes that will take effect in 2024. The entire list can be found on the CMS website.
Finally, CMS released the request for applications (RFA) for the Innovation Center’s Making Care Primary (MCP) model previously announced in June. This voluntary model is scheduled to begin in June 2024 and run for 10.5 years. It will have three participation tracks that build upon previous Innovation Center primary care initiatives.
The MCP model is designed to improve care for beneficiaries by supporting the delivery of advanced primary care services. This framework provides a pathway for primary care clinicians who have varying levels of experience with value-based care to gradually adopt prospective, population-based payments while building the infrastructure to improve behavioral health and specialty integration and drive more equitable access to care. CMS is working with Medicaid agencies in eight states—Colorado, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Washington—to engage in full care transformation across payers, with plans to engage private payers in the coming months.
The RFA provides additional details about the model’s payment, care delivery, quality, and other policies. The application period opens September 4, 2023, and closes November 30, 2023. CMS plans to select participants in winter 2024. Onboarding for participants will take place April−July 2024.
The HMA team continues to review the RFA and is available to assist clients in determining whether this model may be a good fit as well as with assistance in submitting the application.
What to Watch
Comments on the Medicare CY payment rules (home health, end stage renal disease, physician, and outpatient hospital) are due in early fall. CMS will review the comments on each of the proposals and finalize each rule by November 1. Some stakeholders, such as physicians and home health suppliers, may seek congressional action to mitigate payment cuts that CMS has proposed.
In addition, CMS is expected to continue implementing the drug pricing related provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The agency already has released several guidance documents about the process. The list of the first 10 drugs to be negotiated is due to be published September 1, 2023, and manufacturers of selected drugs will have one month to sign agreements to participate in negotiations and provide information for CMS’s consideration in the negotiation process.
The HMA team will continue to evaluate Innovation Center opportunities, CMS payment regulations, and IRA implementation. If you have questions about these topics, contact Amy Bassano ([email protected]), Kevin Kirby ([email protected]), or Andrea Maresca ([email protected]).