Building on momentum from Administrator Seema Verma’s announcement of the MyHealtheData initiative at HIMSS 2018, CMS has published more clues as to future action to liberate health information for patients.

In the CY 2019 call letter to Medicare Advantage organizations and Part D programs, CMS describes the Blue Button 2.0 project and its use of the interoperable application programming interface (API) standard Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). CMS encourages Medicare Advantage plans to adopt “data release platforms” that either meet or exceed the capabilities of Blue Button 2.0, and makes it clear that the agency intends to pursue rulemaking requiring such adoption for 2020.

The FHIR standard is also discussed, although not required, in the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria for API access, regulations promulgated by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) that set the rules for functionality and interoperability of electronic health record systems. It seems likely that ONC further promote FHIR for API-based patient access in their upcoming rulemaking updating the certification program, expected this summer.

This move from CMS arrives alongside increased Congressional interest in patient access to information about the cost of healthcare services. This includes a recent Senate price transparency initiative led by Senator Bill Cassidy. Almost 1000 pages of feedback have already been received by Senate staffers, describing why and how payers and providers can make healthcare price and cost information more accessible for individual patients.

Health plans that wish to get ahead of the future regulatory action can check out the developer resources for Blue Button 2.0 to see how CMS envisions API access working for payer data. Plans can also participate in an ongoing ONC Tech Lab project to learn more about on how these standard resources can be used for health plan-specific information and influence standards development.

CMS announced important changes to Medicare reimbursement for remote patient monitoring and telemedicine that can help accelerate adoption and use of these digital health tools. These changes are implemented through two rules released this week that will take effect January 1, 2018. Understanding these rules can help you incorporate these tools into clinical practice and can positively affect the business model for technology developers and innovators.

What are these new rules and do they affect me?

The 2018 Quality Payment Program Final Rule provides policy updates to the Quality Payment Program (QPP), which was established by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) and will be entering its second year. MACRA offers two “tracks” for eligible clinicians to take as they move toward value-based care:

  • Participation in QPP and its scoring, or
  • Participation in an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM).

The majority of Medicare payments are still tied to fee-for-service, but HHS has set a goal of moving to 50 percent of Medicare payments for alternative payment models by 2018. For previous coverage of QPP proposals, visit our summary here.

The 2018 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule addresses revised payment policies for the Medicare physician fee schedule. Any provisions in the PFS rule typically apply to fee-for-service type providers. Continue Reading New Reimbursement for Remote Patient Monitoring and Telemedicine

The April 3, 2017 release of the 2018 Rate Announcement and Call Letter brought some welcome news for Medicare Advantage organizations and Part D sponsors (collectively, sponsors) and could signal improved transparency by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in its regulation of sponsors. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) issued a joint statement in response to the CMS Rate Announcement:

We are encouraged the Trump Administration took steps to roll back some of the Obama Administration’s flawed payment policies that would have negatively impacted nearly 18 million seniors. We are also pleased that HHS Secretary Price recognized the importance of protecting access to Medicare Advantage, including for patients suffering from kidney disease—a bipartisan priority on our Committee. We look forward to working with the new Administration on policies that promote innovation and competition, improve the quality and coordination of care, and deliver our seniors flexibility and choice in Medicare.

MA Employer Group Waiver Plans (EGWPs).  With CMS’s waiver last year of the bid submission requirement for MA EGWPs, payment rates for these plans have been administratively set based on a blend of EGWP bids and individual market plan bids.  CMS solicited comments in the 2018 Advance Notice on whether it should use only individual market plan bids from 2017 to calculate the bid-to-benchmark ratios for the 2018 MA EGWP payment rates, or whether it should continue to use the bid-to-benchmark ratios applied in calculating the 2017 MA EGWP payment rates. CMS decided to pause the transition to 100% individual market plan bids with the result that 2018 MA EGWP payment rates will continue to reflect a blend of individual market plan bids from 2016 and EGWP bids from 2016, with individual market plan bids weighted by 50% and EGWP bids weighted by 50%. Continue Reading Highlights from the 2018 Rate Announcement and Call Letter for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D

First 100 Days LogoOn Tuesday, April 18, 2017, our Health Care Group will hold a webinar on the health care policy and transition challenges still at play as the Trump Administration nears the end of its 100 days in power.  During the webinar, participants will hear important insights and predictions on what a Trump-led Executive Branch will mean for health care industry stakeholders from:

  • Partner Xavier Baker, whose practice focuses on the regulatory and compliance aspects of commercial insurers’ participation in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid managed care, and the health insurance exchanges;
  • Counsel Gary Baldwin, the former deputy director of Plan and Provider Relations at the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), with expertise in state insurance regulatory issues for commercial plans;
  • Partner Laura Cordova, the former assistant chief in the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, who focuses primarily on counseling health care companies and executives in criminal, civil and administrative enforcement actions, which may still increase under a Trump administration; and
  • Counsel Stephanie Willis, who counsels health care entities in licensure and regulatory matters related to participation in health care reform incentive programs such as the Medicare Shared Savings Program and Meaningful Use.

Register for the webinar here.

In an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) published on March 21, 2017, CMS provided that implementation of the EPMs for cardiac and orthopedic care improvement, the cardiac rehabilitation incentive payment model, and the changes to the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) model would be delayed from July 1, 2017 to October 1, 2017.

The final rules being delayed were published on January 3, 2017 by the outgoing administration. The EPM rules call for mandatory participation by hospitals within certain geographical areas—a feature that drew criticism from current Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, among others.

Further changes or additional delays to the EPMs may be forthcoming. The IFC indicates that the implementation “delay is necessary to allow time for additional review, to ensure that the agency has adequate time to undertake notice and comment rulemaking to modify the policy if modifications are warranted, and to ensure that in such a case participants have a clear understanding of the governing rules . . . .” The delay may be designed to afford time for the development and promulgation of substantive changes to the models.

The IFC also specifically requests “comment on a longer delay of the applicability (model start) date, including to January 1, 2018 . . . .” CMS notes that the delay from July 1 to October 1 would leave performance year 2017 uncommonly short at only three months. This express invitation for comments suggests that CMS is at least open to—and likely is already considering—the possibility of further delay.

Comments on the delay are due to CMS by April 19, 2017.

On November 28, 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued an unfavorable advisory opinion (No. 16-12) that addresses the permissibility, under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), of a laboratory’s proposal to label test tubes and collect specimen containers at no cost to, and for the benefit of, dialysis facilities. The OIG found that the arrangement may violate the AKS, potentially subjecting the laboratory to civil monetary penalties and exclusion from Medicare.

The laboratory in question provides testing services to dialysis patients pursuant to service contracts with dialysis facilities. Testing services provided by the laboratory are reimbursed by Medicare. Under the proposed arrangement, the laboratory would provide some of the dialysis facilities with free labeling services; the laboratory would label test tubes and specimen collection containers that would later be used by those dialysis facilities when sending specimens to the laboratory for testing. These labeling services would be provided to the dialysis facilities at no cost.

The OIG analyzed the applicability of the personal services and management contracts AKS safe harbor and found that the safe harbor would not apply. The safe harbor requires that the compensation paid for services be consistent with fair market value in an arms-length transaction. In the proposed arrangement, however, the dialysis facilities would not pay any compensation to the laboratory for the labeling services despite the value of those services to the dialysis facilities. As a result, the OIG determined that the proposed arrangement is inconsistent with fair market value, rendering the safe harbor inapplicable.

Under a factual analysis, the OIG found that the laboratory’s provision of services to dialysis facilities at no cost would be a tangible benefit to the dialysis facilities. The advisory opinion states that from such arrangements, an inference arises that the service is offered to induce the referral of business. In addition, an inference arises that the free labeling services would be intended to influence the dialysis facilities’ selection of a laboratory – an inference supported by the representation by the laboratory that the labeling services would be offered when necessary to retain or obtain business from dialysis facilities.

Interestingly, the same laboratory sought an advisory opinion of a factually identical arrangement in 2008 (No. 08-06) at a time when Medicare employed a composite rate reimbursement system for laboratory testing services. At that time, the OIG issued an unfavorable advisory opinion of the arrangement. Medicare now employs a bundled payment system in which all laboratory tests related to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) are reimbursed as part of the ESRD prospective payment system bundle (ESRD PPS). Reviewing the arrangement under the ESRD PPS, the 2016 advisory opinion found that OIG’s previous analysis of the arrangement applies, particularly since physicians are currently able to order separate laboratory tests unrelated to a patient’s ESRD. Due to this fact, the labeling services may constitute prohibited remuneration intended to induce or reward referrals for services reimbursed by Medicare. The arrangement viewed under both the composite rate reimbursement system and the ESRD PPS raise AKS concerns.

The AKS risk may be lessened in circumstances where laboratories bill for fewer separately reimbursable tests; however, the offering of such free services remains a concern. This advisory opinion highlights challenges laboratories may face in providing free services to entities with which they contract. As payment models shift toward bundled payments and value-based care, it remains important for providers to consider fraud and abuse risks that may arise.

On December 14, 2016, CMS issued an interim final rule with comment period to amend Medicare’s dialysis facility conditions for coverage to require certain disclosures to patients and health insurance issuers to address widespread concerns over inappropriate steerage of dialysis patients to individual market plans. After issuing an RFI about “inappropriate steering of people eligible for Medicare or Medicaid into Marketplace plans” by third parties in August 2016, CMS decided to focus on dialysis providers given the “overwhelming majority of comments [received in response to the RFI] focused on patients with [end-stage renal disease (ESRD)]” and “the high costs and absolute necessity of transplantation or dialysis” for people with ESRD.

CMS explained that reimbursement rates for dialysis and other ESRD treatment are “tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more per patient when patients enroll in individual market coverage rather than public coverage.” As such, providers have strong incentives to steer patients to private coverage and pay a few thousand dollars in premiums on their behalf. But doing so places patients at substantial health and financial risk. As CMS noted, third-party payment of premiums to enroll a patient in individual market coverage may interfere with transplant readiness, expose the patient to substantial financial harm for services beyond dialysis, and may result in mid-year coverage disruption.

To address these concerns, the interim final rule requires Medicare-certified dialysis facilities to disclose the array of costs and coverage options available to a patient, including the availability of Medicaid, Medicare ESRD coverage, and individual market plans, and to ensure that health insurance issuers are aware of and willing to accept a third-party’s payment of premiums on behalf of the patient. As summarized by the CMS Fact Sheet, providers must:

  • Make up-front disclosures to patients regarding their health insurance coverage options, including information about available individual market plans, Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage, and available options and costs of Medicare ESRD coverage.
  • Provide a summary of short- and long-term cost estimates of various health coverage options for patients and information on enrollment periods for those health coverage options.
  • Inform issuers of the individual market plans for which they make payments of premiums for individual market plans.
  • Receive assurance from the issuer that it will accept these payment of premiums for individual market plans for the duration of the plan year, or else not make such payments.

The interim final rule does not preclude providers from making charitable donations that support access to health care. CMS also noted that it remains concerned about third-party payment of premiums for persons who are eligible for public coverage, such as Medicaid or Medicare, and is considering whether to issue a blanket prohibition on third-party payment of premiums for such persons. CMS has solicited comments on this and alternative approaches, such as whether to allow third-party payments upon a showing that it was in the individual patient’s best interest. The comment period for the interim final rule closes on January 11, 2017 and the rule is effective on January 13, 2017.

On November 2, 2016, the final rule with comment period (the “Final Rule”) implementing provisions of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) relating to the new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Alternative Payment Models (APMs) will be published in the Federal Register.  The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also launched a new website with tools and updates to help MIPS-eligible clinicians learn and prepare for participation in MIPS and APMs.

As we describe in our client alert titled “CMS Releases Final Rules on MACRA Quality Payment Program Implementation for 2017-Onward,” the Final Rule makes several significant changes to the MIPS and APM tracks of the “Quality Payment Program” as they were proposed in the notice of proposed rulemaking.  We previously summarized the proposed rule in two previous alerts MACRA and MIPS: The Basics and Beyond and Medicare Quality Payment Program: Alternative Payment Models (APMs).  When compared to the proposed rule, the Final Rule increases flexibility for eligible clinicians or groups to participate in MIPS by creating several “choose-your-own-pace” options that would allow them to avoid negative payment adjustments.  The Final Rule also includes more value-based payment models that qualify as Advanced APMs.

Given the significant changes, the agency has published the Final Rule with a 60-day comment period for certain provisions that will end on December 19, 2016.

On August 18, 2016, CMS issued a request for information on “inappropriate steering of people eligible for Medicare or Medicaid into Marketplace plans” by third parties. CMS voiced concern over “anecdotal reports” that Medicaid or Medicare eligibles received premium and cost-sharing assistance from third parties so they could enroll in Marketplace plans, enabling providers to receive higher reimbursement rates. In November 2013, CMS had issued guidance discouraging third-party payment of premiums because it has the propensity to “skew the insurance risk pool and create an unlevel field in the Marketplaces.” Almost three years later, it appears that CMS has determined that more decisive action may be necessary.

In July, UnitedHealthcare filed suit against American Renal Associates LLC in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (complaint), alleging ARA violated Florida’s deceptive and unfair trade practices act, fraud, unjust enrichment, conspiracy, and other causes of action. The suit alleges that ARA coordinated with the American Kidney Foundation to pay premiums of low-income enrollees to switch from government health care programs to private insurance coverage. The suit alleges that by steering enrollees from Medicaid and Medicare to private insurance, ARA was able to increase billing from about $300 to $4,000 for the same services. The complaint also alleges that ARA did not collect copayments or deductibles from the enrollees after covering their premiums for private insurance and so committed negligent misrepresentation and tortious interference with a contract by misrepresenting the charges of claims submitted to UnitedHealthcare.

Continue Reading CMS Renews Focus on Third-Party Payment of Insurance Premiums Steering Medicaid & Medicare Eligibles into Marketplace Plans

Barsky

Yesterday, our colleague Troy A. Barsky testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee led by Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and provided recommendations for modernizing the Stark Law to regulate self-referrals without impeding the care coordination and value-based payment models promoted by health care reform legislation. Other witnesses before the Committee included Dr. Ronald A. Paulus, president and chief executive officer of Mission Health; and Peter Mancino, deputy general counsel of The Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation.

During his oral testimony, Barsky raised the following points and recommendations to the Senate Finance Committee:

  • That the Stark Law is affecting the health care industry because it has moved beyond the bounds of its original intent;
  • Because of the changing nature of the health care system, the Stark Law should be reformed to facilitate new alternative payment models; and
  • What Congress can do to reform the law while still protecting patients and the Medicare program, such as removing the compensation-based prohibitions in the Stark Law and granting the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services more authority to issue broad waivers for a wider variety of innovative health care and payment systems to limit the piecemeal waiver approach developing under the Affordable Care Act.

In addition, Barsky urged that reform of the Stark Law should focus on “[m]aking bright line rules that providers can follow and expanding CMS’s authority to provide guidance through advisory opinions will greatly assist provider.” Other options for reform also included implementing a lower penalty scheme for technical violations of the Stark Law, and lowering CMS’s heightened standard of “no program or patient abuse” for promulgating new regulatory exceptions to the general prohibition” against self-referrals.

The Committee members in attendance, representing both the Republican and Democratic Parties, largely responded positively to comments shared by all of the witnesses during the hearing and Chairman Hatch said that the Committee would move reform proposals forward in the remainder of the year.

Barsky’s full written testimony can be found here. His comments are also featured in Bloomberg BNA, Inside Health Policy, Law360, and MedTech Insight (subscriptions required).