Docs weigh pulling out of MIPS over paltry payments


If you’ve knocked yourself out to earn a Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) bonus payment, it’s pretty safe to say that getting a 1.68% payment boost probably didn’t feel like a “win” that was worth the effort.

And although it saved you from having a negative 5% payment adjustment, many physicians don’t feel that it was worth the effort.

On Jan. 6, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the 2020 payouts for MIPS.

Based on 2018 participation, the bonus for those who scored a perfect 100 is only a 1.68% boost in Medicare reimbursement, slightly lower than last year’s 1.88%. This decline comes as no surprise as the agency leader admits: “As the program matures, we expect that the increases in the performance thresholds in future program years will create a smaller distribution of positive payment adjustments.” Overall, more than 97% of participants avoided having a negative 5% payment adjustment.

Indeed, these bonus monies are based on a short-term appropriation of extra funds from Congress. After these temporary funds are no longer available, there will be little, if any, monies to distribute as the program is based on a “losers-feed-the-winners” construct.

It may be very tempting for many physicians to decide to ignore MIPS, with the rationale that 1.68% is not worth the effort. But don’t let your foot off the gas pedal yet, since the penalty for not participating in 2020 is a substantial 9%. Physicians should make sure that they, at minimum, achieve the 45 points necessary to avoid that pitfall this reporting year.

However, it is certainly time to reconsider efforts to participate at the highest level.

Should you or shouldn’t you bother with MIPS?

Let’s say you have $75,000 in revenue from Medicare Part B per year. Depending on the services you offer in your practice, that equates to 500-750 encounters with Medicare beneficiaries per year. (A reminder that MIPS affects only Part B; Medicare Advantage plans do not partake in the program.)

The recent announcement reveals that perfection would equate to an additional $1,260 per year. That’s only if you received the full 100 points; if you were simply an “exceptional performer,” the government will allot an additional $157. That’s less than you get paid for a single office visit.

The difference between perfection and compliance is approximately $1,000. Failure to participate, however, knocks $6,750 off your bottom line. Clearly, that’s a substantial financial loss that would affect most practices. Obviously, the numbers change if you have higher – or lower – Medicare revenue, but it’s important to do the math.

Why? Physicians are spending a significant amount of money to comply with the program requirements. This includes substantial payments to registries – typically $200 to >$1,000 per year – to report the quality measures for the program; electronic health record (EHR) systems, many of which require additional funding for the “upgrade” to a MIPS-compatible system, are also a sizable investment.

These hard costs pale in comparison with the time spent on understanding the ever-changing requirements of the program and the process by which your practice will implement them. Take, for example, something as innocuous as the required “Support Electronic Referral Loops by Receiving and Incorporating Health Information.”

You first must understand the elements of the measure: What is a “referral loop?” When do we need to generate one? To whom shall it be sent? What needs to be included in “health information?” What is the electronic address to which we should route the information? How do we obtain that address? Then you must determine how your EHR system captures and reports it.

Only then comes the hard part: How are we going to implement this? That’s only one of more than a dozen required elements: six quality measures, two (to four) improvement activities, and four promoting interoperability requirements. Each one of these elements has a host of requirements, all listed on multipage specification sheets.

The government does not seem to be listening. John Cullen, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, testified at the Senate Finance Committee in May 2019 that MIPS “has created a burdensome and extremely complex program that has increased practice costs ... ” Yet, later that year, CMS issued another hefty ruling that outlines significant changes to the program, despite the fact that it’s in its fourth performance year.


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