CMS May Delay MACRA


By Jose Lopez, Senior Consultant, The Verden Group

In our most recent issue of ViewPoint Magazine, we provided some tips on how to prepare for the reporting requirements and shift to quality payment models under the proposed Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). MACRA was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2017. However, after feedback and pressure from most of the professional medical societies and specialty membership organizations, Andy Slavitt, the Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), recently indicated MACRA could be delayed from the proposed January 1 start date.

The final rule for MACRA is not expected to be released until November 1, 2016, only two months prior to the current proposed effective date of January 1, 2017. This would put unbelievable pressure on providers, particularly those in small practices, to scramble to meet the requirements of MACRA in a very short period of time. The Verden Group encourages CMS to delay implementation of MACRA, and for practices to fully understand, prepare for, and implement changes in their workflows to demonstrate the cost effectiveness and high quality of care they provide to their patients.

CMS issues Final Rules for Stage 2 and Proposed Rules for Stage 3


By Jose Lopez, Senior Consultant, The Verden Group

On October 6, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) released the final rules (click here to view) for modifications to Stage 2 and 2015 reporting requirements, as well as proposed rules for the third stage of the Meaningful Use incentive program.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Changes

As expected, CMS finalized the modifications for the 2015 reporting period and some Stage 2 requirements (see my earlier blog post about details on those anticipated changes). CMS says it is providing a simpler, more flexible set of stage 2 regulations for 2015 through 2017 as the meaningful use regulation era gives way to CMS’s transition to value-based compensation. In summary:

  • The rules also allow for a 90-day reporting period for providers in 2015, and new providers in 2016 and 2017.
  • Many of the measures of personal health engagement have been drastically reduced (patient portal and e-messaging requirements).
  • Clinical quality measures for both hospitals and providers will remain the same.

The Verden Group applauds the relaxation of these measures to reflect the real challenges that practices and hospitals are facing. More than 60% of hospitals and about 90% of physicians have yet to attest to stage 2!

Meaningful Use Stage 3 Measures

In spite of calls from most of the major medical associations to delay the onset of Stage 3, CMS also announced that Stage 3 will go on as planned and will not be delayed. In summary, major provisions pertaining to Stage 3 meaningful use include:

  • There will be 8 objectives for eligible providers and hospitals.
  • In Stage 3, more than 60 percent of the proposed measures require interoperability, up from 33 percent in Stage 2.
  • Public health reporting will include flexible options for measure selection.
  • Clinical Quality Measures (CQM) reporting are aligned with the CMS quality reporting programs.
  • Finalizes the use of application program interfaces that enable the development of new functionalities to build bridges across systems.

In short, CMS is attempting to address the two areas in Stage 3 that have been the primary barriers for successful Stage 2 attestation: interoperability and patient engagement. In 2017, Stage 3 requirements are optional, but providers who opt to start Stage 3 in 2017 will have a 90-day reporting period. Come 2018, all providers must comply with Stage 3 regulations using a certified EHR.

Industry Reaction

Despite a public outcry from the healthcare community to delay the onset due to the lack of successful Stage 2 attestation, Stage 3 is set to begin as an optional requirement for physicians and hospitals in 2017 and a requirement in 2018. The American Medical Association applauded CMS for allowing a hardship exemption for physicians who are unable to attest in 2015 but called the final rule, as a whole, “deeply disappointing.” The American Hospital Association urged CMS to delay the implementation of Stage 3 and focus instead on “ensuring that providers could easily and efficiently share health information to support care delivery and new models of care.” The American College of Cardiology says that the program requirements “remain difficult to implement.”

The final rule for Stage 3 includes a 60-day comment period, which is longer than is typical, suggesting that there may be additional modifications or delays. As such, the political fight to delay the onset of Stage 3 of meaningful use may not be over, and we expect many changes may be coming before the rule is finalized.

A Post-HITECH World

When Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), it essentially sunset the meaningful use payment adjustments (penalties for noncompliance) at the end of 2018. Instead, Congress has called for the establishment of a Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), of which the meaningful use program will form one component. CMS will continue to consolidate its current incentive/adjustment programs under the umbrella of MIPS as it further transitions from encounter-based payments to value-based compensation. The Verden Group will continue to monitor industry reaction and comments submitted to CMS on the final Stage 3 rule in order to guide our clients through successful Meaningful Use Attestation and beyond.

 

Looking Ahead: Meaningful Use Stage 3 Requirements


By Jose Lopez, Senior Consultant, The Verden Group

In my recent blog on the proposed changes to Meaningful Use 2 requirements CMS recognized the barriers providers were facing in meeting the Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements, and proposed a rule to simplify the Measures and Objectives for 2015 and beyond. CMS clearly heard the complaints from providers that meeting the measures were creating workflow issues. The Verden Group applauds these changes and hope they are approved in their entirety.

Let’s look forward now to what lies beyond meeting the revised Stage 2 requirements in 2015 and 2016, to Stage 3. Following a proposed “optional” year in 2017, all providers will report on the same streamlined definition of Meaningful Use at the Stage 3 level in 2018, regardless of prior participation.

CMS has come out with 8 tentative advanced use objectives for Stage 3 designed to align with national healthcare quality improvement efforts, and to promote interoperability and health information exchange which will focus on the triple aim of reducing costs, improving access and improving quality:

  1. Protect electronic health information
  2. e-Prescribing
  3. Clinical decision support
  4. Computerized provider order entry
  5. Patient electronic access to their data
  6. Coordination of care through patient engagement
  7. Health information exchange
  8. Public health reporting

The specific measures for each objective have yet to be defined but if you think the objectives look like Stage 2, then you would be correct. And as with Stage 2, the most challenging objectives appear to be those where the provider does not have direct control over their outcomes: patient engagement (patient use of portals and e-messaging), health information exchange (by states or other entities), and public health reporting (by states or other entities).

While CMS came under fire in 2014 following the fallout of providers being unable to meet Stage 2 requirements, it is vital that practices continue to advance their use of electronic health information. As Medicare and private payers continue their evolution from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance, data is being used to report on quality outcomes and to differentiate high performing practices to patients.

In closing, it is crucial that providers and provider associations provide feedback when CMS proposes rules for Stage 3 to ensure the data being required isn’t arbitrary (as was the case with Stage 2), but that it meets the intent of the HITECH Act to begin with: reducing costs, improving access, and improving quality.

In our next blog on Meaningful Use, we’ll discuss proper Meaningful Use Attestation documentation and the ugly truth no one wants to hear: CMS plans to audit one in every 20 meaningful use attesters.