AGA spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill advocating to help gastroenterologists in practice better care for their patients and receive fair reimbursement. Therefore, we were pleased that the budget deal passed by Congress and signed by the president in February included several policy victories that AGA has been working diligently on for many years.
AGA, and all of organized medicine, have long opposed the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) that was created as part of the Affordable Care Act. IPAB is an unelected, unaccountable board whose sole purpose is to cut Medicare spending from providers should Medicare reach a certain threshold of spending. Since hospitals are exempt from their purview, physicians would be particularly vulnerable to cuts. However, repealing IPAB has had bipartisan support over the years, and we applaud Congress for listening to us and the medical community and taking action.
AGA and the physician community were also successful in removing a provision that would have extended the misvalued codes initiative for the next two years to reallocate savings from potentially overvalued codes. AGA, the Alliance of Specialty Medicine and the AMA opposed the original provision expanding the misvalued codes initiative and have argued that virtually all codes under the fee schedule, including gastroenterology, have been reevaluated and have already faced significant cuts. In the final agreement, Congress eliminated recapturing savings from the misvalued codes initiative and instead lowered overall updates for physician reimbursement under Medicare by .25 percent for 1 year. Although AGA would prefer this reduction not be included, it is much better than the misvalued codes provision, which disproportionately impacts specialties, like gastroenterology.
Geographic Practice Cost Index
The budget agreement extends the work for the Geographic Practice Cost Index (GPCI) floor for two additional years, which avoids a decrease in Medicare reimbursement for physicians that practice in rural areas. The work GPCI is a variable that Medicare uses to adjust the work component of physician payment based on where they live. A work GPCI floor of 1.0 protects physicians in low-cost, often rural areas, from being paid less for the work they do.
Meaningful use standards
The package addresses electronic health record (EHR) standards and eases requirements for physicians. The language removes the mandate that meaningful use standards become more stringent over time, which is a major financial burden for physician practices. The language also gives physicians more time to submit and receive a hardship exemption from the current EHR standards that would apply to meaningful use and the Quality Payment Program’s advancing care information performance category.
Biosimilars coverage under Medicare Part D
The agreement also levels the playing field between biologics and biosimilars by adding biosimilars to the Medicare Coverage Gap Discount Program. Additionally, by providing the 50 percent discount equally, beneficiary out-of-pocket costs will be reduced and the Medicare program will save money as a result of covering the less expensive medication.
AGA and the medical community have fought long and hard for these provisions and are happy to see them finally being implemented. We thank all of our members who have worked along with us to ensure that the voice of gastroenterology continues to be heard on Capitol Hill.