Category Archives: CMS

Mid-Week Catch-Up

Borrowing a page from another blogger, here are some items that I have seen this week that I did not immediately post to the blog. The first three are courtesy of Medical Travel.com.

From AHA.org, comes an article about the Zika epidemic I wrote about a while ago. About 14% of babies age one or older who were born in U.S. territories to pregnant women infected with Zika virus since 2016 have at least one health problem possibly caused by exposure to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today. About 6% had Zika-associated birth defects, 9% nervous system problems and 1% both.

From Health Affairs.org, comes a report about the fundamental flaw of health care and the recurring-payment-for-outcomes solution.

Bloomberg.org reported that US hospitals are shutting at a 30-a-year pace with no end in sight.

Lastly, Health Affairs blog posted an article about an issue I covered some years ago, the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

Have a good rest of the week after remembering the fallen of 9/11. FYI, I was in Houston at the time, just having started a new job with Aon there, and heard about the first plane crashing into the north tower while driving to work and listening to the radio. As we were all new, and had little to do, I took a brief siesta and when I went into the hallway, was told to go upstairs to the break room. There was a TV on, and as I entered the room, the south tower went down. This NYC born kid was not sure what was going to happen next, surrounded as I was by all these Texans. I remembered the people and companies I knew there in both towers, especially my cousin who was there for the 1993 attack.

 

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Again, With the Models?

Today’s post from Don McCanne revives an old issue readers of this blog are familiar with — the introduction of new models or the revising of old models for value-based care such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and the Medicare Shared Savings Program.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma attempts to defend these models and gives an overview of a new proposal called “Pathways to Success.” Don’t you just love these cute names they give to future failures? Instead of scraping them altogether and going to single payer, they keep re-inventing a broken wheel.

At any rate, I am posting Verma’s article from Health Affairs blog, along with Kip Sullivan’s response, and lastly, Don McCanne’s brief comments on both. Enjoy!


Health Affairs Blog
August 9, 2018
Pathways To Success: A New Start For Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations
By Seema Verma
For many years we have heard health care policymakers from both political parties opine about the need to move to a health care system that pays for the value of care delivered to patients, rather than the mere volume of services.
From the moment I became Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), I have been committed to using every tool at my disposal to move our health care system towards value-based care.
One set of value-based payment models that CMS has been closely reviewing are initiatives involving Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
In this post I will unpack key features of Medicare’s ACO initiatives and provide an overview of CMS’s new proposal for the Medicare Shared Savings Program, called “Pathways to Success.”
Upside-Only Versus Two-Sided ACOs
The majority of Medicare’s ACOs – 460 of the 561 or 82% of Shared Savings Program ACOs in 2018 – are in the upside-only “Track 1” of the Shared Savings Program, meaning that they share in savings but do not share in losses.  Currently, ACOs are allowed to remain in the one-sided track for up to six years.
The results show that ACOs that take on greater levels of risk show better results for cost and quality over time. (See Kip’s comments.)
The current combination of six years of upside-only risk, which involves bonus payments if spending is low but no risk of losses if spending goes up, along with the provision of waivers may be encouraging consolidation.  Such consolidation reduces choices for patients without controlling costs.  This is unacceptable.
The proposed changes included in Pathways to Success would shorten the maximum amount of time permitted in upside-only risk to allow a maximum of two years, or one year for ACOs identified as having previously participated in the Shared Savings Program under upside-only risk.
Streamlining the program, extending the length of agreements, and accelerating the transition to two-sided risk would result in reduced administrative burden and greater savings for patients and taxpayers.
Looking Forward
ACOs can be an important component of the move to a value-based system, but after six years of experience, the program must evolve to deliver value.  The time has come to put real “accountability” in Accountable Care Organizations.
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The Health Care Blog
August 21, 2018
Seema Verma Hyperventilates About Tiny Differences Between ACOs Exposed to One-and Two-Sided Risk
By Kip Sullivan, JD
There is no meaningful difference between the performance of Medicare ACOs that accept only upside risk (the chance to make money) and ACOs that accept both up- and downside risk (the risk of losing money). But CMS’s administrator, Seema Verma, thinks otherwise. According to her, one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs while two-sided ACOs are saving “significant” amounts of money. She is so sure of this that she is altering the rules of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). Currently only 18 percent of MSSP ACOs accept two-sided risk. That will change next year. According to a proposed rule CMS published on August 9, ACOs will have at most two years to participate in the MSSP exposed to upside risk only, and after that they must accept two-sided risk.
That same day, Verma published an essay on the Health Affairs blog in which she revealed, presumably unwittingly, how little evidence she has to support her decision. The data Verma published in that essay revealed that one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs by six-one-hundredths of a percent while two-sided ACOs are cutting Medicare’s costs by seven-tenths of a percent. Because these figures do not consider the expenses ACOs incur, and because the algorithms CMS uses to assign patients to ACOs and to calculate ACO expenditure targets and actual performance are so complex, this microscopic difference is meaningless.
As pathetic as these figures are, they fail to take into account ACO start-up and operating costs. CMS doesn’t know or care what those costs are. The only relevant information we have are some undocumented statements by the staff of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) to the effect that ACO overhead is about 2 percent of their benchmarks (their predicted spending). I suspect 2 percent is low, but let’s take it at face value and do the math. If, as Verna’s data indicates, two-sided ACOs save Medicare seven-tenths of a percent net (that is, considering both CMS’s shared-savings payments to some ACOs and penalties other ACOs that lose money pay to CMS), but these ACOs spend 2 percent doing whatever it is ACOs do, that means the average two-sided ACO is losing one percent.
The good news is that Verma may have hastened the demise of a program that isn’t working. Whether Congress ultimately pulls the plug on the ACO project will depend on whether ACO advocates will concede at some point that the ACO fad was based on faith, not evidence, and has failed to work. I predict they will refuse to admit failure and will instead peddle another equally ineffective solution, for example, overpaying ACOs (as the Medicare Advantage insurers and their predecessors have been for the last half-century). I base my prediction on the behavior of ACO advocates. The history of the ACO movement indicates ACO proponents don’t make decisions based on evidence.
Facing the Evidence
Evidence that the ACO project is failing is piling up. All three of CMS’s two-sided ACO programs – the PGP demo, the Pioneer demo, and the Next Generation program – saved only a few tenths of a percent, while CMS’s mostly two-sided program, the MSSP, raised costs by a smidgeon. All four programs have raised costs if we take into account the ACOs’ start-up and operating costs and CMS’s cost of administering these complex programs. Evidence indicting the other major “value-based payment” fads – medical homes, bundled payments, and pay-for-performance schemes – is also piling up. The simultaneous failure of all these fads to cut costs spells trouble ahead for the Affordable Care Act (because it relies on “value-based payment reforms” for cost containment), MACRA (because it also relies on “value-based payment” theology), and our entire health care system (because the big insurance companies and the major hospital-clinic chains are spending more money on “value-based payment” fads than those fads are saving, and because these 1,000-pound gorillas are using the establishment’s endorsement of ACOs, medical homes etc. as an excuse to become 2,000-pound gorillas).
The root cause of our nation’s chronic inability to adopt effective cost-containment policies is the chronic inability of the American health policy establishment to make decisions based on evidence, not groupthink. Seema Verma’s decision to bet the farm on two-sided-risk ACOs is the latest example of this problem.
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Comment by Don McCanne
We can thank Seema Verma for showing us that all of the talk about value-based payment – paying for value instead of volume through the establishment of accountable care organizations – was never really about value. Her insistence in shoving providers into downside risk reveals that it was always about reducing federal spending on Medicare. But that hasn’t changed her deceptive rhetoric about value and accountability.
Thank goodness we have astute analysts such as Kip Sullivan. The excerpts from his critique of Verma’s views as expressed in her Health Affairs Blog article should tempt you to read his entire critique at The Health Care Blog (link above).
The nonsense about ACOs has to go so we can get down to fixing the real problems with our health care financing system – the inequities, lack of universality, and lack of affordability for far too many individual patients. So let’s turn up the volume on a well designed, single payer, improved Medicare for all.

Rural hospitals in dire need of regulatory relief | Healthcare Dive

“Reducing some of the costly regulatory challenges we face would help staunch the bloodletting,” said Leslie Marsh, CEO of Lexington Regional Health Center.

Source: Rural hospitals in dire need of regulatory relief | Healthcare Dive

Medicaid Work Requirements Worsen Health

Back in May, I posted a link to a Health Affairs blog article, Social Determinants Of Health: A Public Health Concept In Conflict in which it was reported that the current regime was seeking to impose work requirements for people on Medicaid.

As reported then, and on Monday in a follow-up article, CMS approved the first waiver to implement a work requirement for Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky on January 12th.

The article stated that a couple of weeks ago, a district court found the approval of these work requirements to be “arbitrary and capricious”, and in direct violation of the Administrative Procedures Act of 1996.

According to the article, CMS failed to consider whether the waiver’s estimated removal of 95,000 Kentuckians was in line with the program’s goals of furnishing medical assistance, and the judge ordered the waiver to be returned to CMS.

It was the government’s argument, the article states, that new research into the social determinants of health demonstrate that income and employment are associated with improved health, and so a work requirement thereby fits within the goals of the program.

The case in Kentucky hinged on the fact that work requirements worsened financial assistance, which the judge pointed out is a main tenet of the program.

The author then writes that if CMS wants to use research within the social determinants of health, then he will analyze Medicaid work requirements through this lens. A recent post in Health Affairs focused on the perversion of social determinants of health as a concept, and the current post builds off that one, to demonstrate that this regime’s justification for Medicaid work requirements is misguided at best.

To illustrate this, he follows a theoretical low-income worker, a 50-year-old from Louisville, who could no longer work in his job as a longshoreman due to cardiovascular disease and suffered chest pain whenever he exerted himself. He is uninsured, has a wife and three adult children. And is also trying to find a job.

The author continues by examining the following issues: Unemployment and Health, Medicaid Improves Health, Medicaid Work Requirements Harm Those With Jobs, and concludes by stating that Medicaid Work Requirements Worsen Health.

The theoretical case of the 50-year-old longshoreman is not so theoretical, as each of the 16 Kentucky plaintiffs in the case demonstrated. One is a graduating student with endometriosis, another is a mother of four with congenital hip dysplasia, and another is a partly blind mortician (no jokes, please) with chronic lung disease. All would have risked losing their coverage as a result of work requirements.

And to make the case more clearly, your humble blogger, while not currently on Medicaid, but eventually will be, has end-stage renal disease, and does peritoneal dialysis every night at home, and goes to the clinic twice a month for blood work and to see the nephrologist. In addition, every two weeks on a Monday, as will happen this coming Monday, I have to be home to receive my supplies, and this Friday must call in another order. Working a full-time job, if one were available that matched my experience, would prevent me from doing so.

This is another reason why our health care system is broken and needs to be replaced by a single payer system that does not separate out older beneficiaries, as Medicare does, poorer ones as Medicaid does, and children and military personnel, as the other programs do.

One system for all Americans.

Social Determinants Of Health: A Public Health Concept In Conflict

Source: Social Determinants Of Health: A Public Health Concept In Conflict

Physician practices seek help in transition to value-based care | Healthcare Dive

Follow-up to the last post and yesterday’s regarding CMS’ initiative for quality reporting.

See the link:

The report also found physicians are moving more toward independent and physician-led group practices after a six-year trend of doctors moving to hospitals.

Source: Physician practices seek help in transition to value-based care | Healthcare Dive

CMS to consolidate Medicare quality reporting programs | Healthcare Dive

As readers of this blog have noticed in the past, I have been very critical of CMS’ introduction of myriads of models, programs, and schemes to improve quality reporting and physician performance, so it is no surprise that I look upon this new initiative with a bit of skepticism. But I’ll let you the reader decide if this is just another wasted effort by CMS or if it has a chance to actually work this time. After all, after forty years of tinkering, the American health care system is no better off than it was before CMS got involved.

One of the quality networks CMS wants to roll into a single contract concerns something your humble writer is going through, ESRD.

Here’s the article:

Quality Improvement Networks and Organizations, End Stage Renal Disease Networks and Hospital Improvement Innovation Networks are all being bundled into a single $25 billion contract.

Source: CMS to consolidate Medicare quality reporting programs | Healthcare Dive