S…G…R (continued) – It is much to all of our collective delight and relief that the SGR has finally been relegated to the ash heap of history.
In the late evening of April 14, in an act of historic bipartisanship, the Senate voted 92-8 in favor of H.R. 2 thus completing legislative action about which I wrote last month. President Obama signed the bill into law on April 16. As I write, Dave Hoyt, ACS Executive Director, is attending an event at the White House, along with other leaders of the physician community, to celebrate the full and permanent repeal of the SGR.
In the coming months, I will use this column to inform surgeons about various components of the legislation and its attendant policy. To start this process, I would first like to cover the key provisions of what is now known as MACRA – the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.
For starters, MACRA fully and permanently repeals the sustainable growth rate (SGR), thus providing stability to the Medicare physician fee schedule. Such repeal averts a 21% SGR-induced cut scheduled for April 1, 2015. MACRA also provides modest but stable positive updates of 0.5%/year for 5 years. When the legislative template that ultimately became MACRA was negotiated in late 2013 and early 2014, no provision was initially made for a positive update to physician payment. However, as a direct result of objections made by the leadership of the ACS, the legislation was subsequently revised to include the 0.5%/year update.
In addition, MACRA provides for the elimination, in 2018, of the current-law penalties associated with the existing quality programs, namely the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), the Value-Based Modifier (VBM) program, and the Electronic Health Record-Meaningful Use (EHR-MU) program. The monies expected from those penalties will be returned to the pool, thus increasing the amount of funds available for incentive updates.
Beginning in 2019, these three programs will be combined into a single program known as the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The MIPS makes it possible for all surgeons to receive an annual positive update based on their individual performance in four categories of Quality, Resource Use, Meaningful use of the electronic health record, and Clinical practice improvement activities. Surgeons will receive an annual, individual, single composite score based on their performance in these four categories. This score will be compared to a threshold score, defined as either the mean or median of composite scores from a prior performance period. Those with a score above the threshold will receive a positive adjustment and those with a score below the threshold will receive a negative adjustment.The legislation also provides the opportunity to receive a 5% bonus beginning in 2019 for participation in an Alternative Payment Model (APM). Surgeons who meet the full APM criteria will also be excluded from the MIPS assessment and most EHR-MU requirements. Those who participate in an APM at lower levels will receive credit toward their MIPS score. The bonus payment encourages the development of, testing of, and participation in an alternative payment model.
The passage of MACRA also represents a major victory relative to the College’s efforts to rescind the CMS policy transitioning 10- and 90-day global codes to zero-day global codes. ACS leadership and staff of the D.C. office had direct input into the specific language included in the legislation through multiple exchanges with congressional committee staff. In short, MACRA prohibits CMS from implementing its flawed plan relative to the transitioning of the global codes. Instead, beginning no later than 2017, CMS will collect samples of data on the number and level of postoperative visits furnished during the global period. Beginning in 2019, CMS will use this data to improve the accuracy of the valuation of surgical services. CMS is allowed to withhold 5% of the surgical payment until the sample information is reported at the end of the global period.
While MACRA does not implement broad medical liability reforms, it does include a provision which assures that MIPS participation cannot be used in a medical liability action. Specifically, the legislation specifies that the development, recognition or implementation of any guideline or other standard under any federal health care provision, including Medicare, cannot be construed as to establish the standard of care or duty of care owed by a surgeon to a patient in any medical malpractice claim.
Finally, and of particular interest to pediatric surgeons and other surgeons who care for children, MACRA includes two years of additional funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at the level provided under the Affordable Care Act.