Final Rule for Bundled Hip and Knee Replacements Published

Four months ago today, I wrote a piece called, “CMS to Require Bundling of Reimbursements for Hip and Knee Surgery”, that said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will require the bundling of reimbursements for hip and knee surgeries.

Today, Health Affairs blog published an article reporting that CMS has recently published the final rule for the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) model, which is a mandatory bundled payment model for lower extremity joint replacement (LEJR) services in certain geographic areas.

The article, by Patrick H. Conway, Rahul Rajkuma, Amy Bassano, Matthew Press, Claire Schreiber and Gabriel Scott, said that hip and knee replacements are the most common inpatient surgery procedures for Medicare beneficiaries, and can require long recovery and rehab periods.

The authors said that in 2014, more than 400,000 beneficiaries received hip or knee replacement, which cost more than $7 billion just for hospitalization.

They also reported that the quality and cost of care for these surgeries varied significantly by region and by hospital, and was true for both the care received in the hospital and for post-acute care outside.

The variation, they said, is due to the way Medicare pays for this care today, spread among multiple providers, with no single entity accountable for the total patient experience.

Care can be fragmented, they wrote, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Here are the key takeaways from the final rule:

  • the CJR model seeks to incentivize Medicare providers and suppliers to work together to improve the quality and reduce the costs of care for patients undergoing lower extremity joint replacement
  • the acute hospital where the procedure occurs will be accountable for aggregate Medicare expenditures and the overall quality of related care
  • the model will include participant hospitals located in 67 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) throughout the country
  • acute hospitals paid under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and located in the selected MSAs will be included in the model, with the exception of hospitals currently participating in Model 1 or Models 2 or 4 of the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative
  • depending on the hospital’s quality and aggregate spending performance, the hospital may receive an additional payment from Medicare, or need to repay Medicare in the second year if spending exceeds targets
  • hospitals will need to work with physicians and post-acute care providers, such as home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities, to ensure patients get the care they need

This is in contrast to what I reported on in July, when I said that a former CMS official was cited in the Freeman article as saying that mandatory bundled payments for hip and knee surgeries would shutter one in four skilled nursing facilities and trigger “demand destruction in areas such as diagnostic testing, hospital stays, and avoidable readmissions.”

Whether or not this final rule will do what the authors of the Health Affairs article says it will do remains to be seen, but judging by past CMS programs to affect quality and costs, this may be wishful thinking on the part of the authors.

The insistence that one more new initiative, or more incentives, or one more new model or new rule will change the way health care is being provided in the US, just goes to show that until we adopt a single-payer, “Medicare for All” system with less rules and less incentives, some people will continue to game the system, then we will see a radical change in the American health care system.

And if workers’ compensation follows changes in health care under Medicare, especially how it determines reimbursements for hip and knee surgeries, which are also common to workers’ comp, we can expect to see issues in workers’ comp.

Alternatives must be considered to an ever expensive and poor quality of health care for workers’ comp. That alternative is medical travel.

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