ICD-10 To Be Delayed Indefinitely – Never Mind!

Robert Laszewski

Posted 2/14/12 on Health Policy and Marketplace Review

After years of telling us they are serious this time and everyone in the health care system had better be ready on time to implement the new disease coding system, CMS said today the whole project is going to be delayed indefinitely.

The new ICD-10 system requires payers and providers to convert from the old system of 13,000 codes to the new system of 68,000 codes.

Continue reading “ICD-10 To Be Delayed Indefinitely – Never Mind!”

Will the Feds Be Ready With the Fallback Insurance Exchanges by October 2013?

Robert Laszewski

Posted 1/18/12 on Health Policy and Marketplace Review

Insurance exchanges have to be up and running in all of the states by October 2013 in order to be able to cover people by January 1, 2014.

If the states don’t do it, the feds have to be ready with a fallback exchange. States have to tell HHS if they intend to be ready by January 1, 2013.
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I Hope Trustmark Tells HHS to Go Pound Sand

Robert Laszewski

Posted 1/12/12 on Health Policy and Marketplace Review

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that, “Trustmark Life Insurance Company has proposed unreasonable health insurance premium increases in five states—Alabama, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming. The excessive rate hikes would affect nearly 10,000 residents across these five states.”

The HHS statement continued, “In these five states, Trustmark has raised rates by 13 percent. For small businesses in Alabama and Arizona, when combined with other rate hikes made over the last 12 months, rates have increased by 27.2 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively. These increases were reviewed by independent experts to determine whether they are reasonable. In this case, HHS determined that the rate increases were unreasonable because the insurer would be spending a low percent of premium dollars on actual medical care and quality improvements, and because the justifications were based on unreasonable assumptions.”

I hope Trustmark tells HHS to go pound sand.

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ACOs: The Good and the Bad

To muted applause and some sighs of relief from providers, HHS released the final ACO regulations last week. 

The final version superseded the much-criticized draft regs published several weeks earlier. This previous draft was widely regarded as imposing overwhelmingly complex rules for the chance of sharing in any gains. As one commentator noted: “The promise of integrated, coordinated and cost-effective care provided by hospital-physician networks had run into the reality of having to invest millions dollars with a questionable ROI, a complex maze of up and downside risk calculations, reams of burdensome quality measures and overlawyered antitrust regulations.

So the final less-unwieldy rules have been relatively well-received. On the other hand, fundamental questions about the viability and impact of ACOs remain:

  1. Will the potential “bonuses” justify the financial investments? Major hospital systems (likely to be the primary ACO sponsors) seem to be willing to play so long as the regulations are not too onerous. And as with other HHS initiatives, those willing to participate are likely to be those who are most confident that they can readily cut costs and gain the savings bonuses. On the other hand, ACOs that aren’t able to do a much better job of coordinating care will be unable to recoup their investments.
  2. Will there be losers? Physicians and hospitals who don’t participate in ACOs may find HHS squeezing rates to be in line with costs of competing ACOs. And even in successful ACOs, hospital staff and individual physicians may be in danger of losing their jobs as the ACOs try to reduce variable costs in order to achieve the “bonus-eligible” level.
  3. Why are hospitals so interested in ACOs? It’s a great opportunity to tie physicians more tightly, thereby guaranteeing referrals and admissions and strengthening the hospitals’ rate negotiating positions.  At the same time, the hospital risk is small; the ACO component is expected to be tiny relative to the size of the Medicare program, and with beneficiary assignment made prospective in the final rules, the costs and risks for participating providers are even less.
  4. Will ACOs really enhance cost-effectiveness? In some cases the answer will be yes, with the ACOs achieving the objectives of their government designers. In other cases, however, the pros of better integrated care will be more than outweighed by the cons of quasi-monopolistic hospital systems able to dictate their terms to insurers and other payers.

There is one more fundamental problem with the present ACO design: by randomly assigning Medicare beneficiaries to ACOs, much of the opportunity to impact the highest cost cases may be lost. A more targeted approach might begin to show the savings that the Medicare program desperately needs. On the other hand, HHS’ track record of success with its chronic care demonstrations gives little confidence that the government could indeed achieve these potential savings.

The bottom line seems to be: ACOs will generally demonstrate the virtues of integrated care (something that was known already), while in too many cases encouraging monopolistic hospital systems to become even more entrenched.

Roger Collier used to be CEO of a large health care consulting practice. Now he writes at Health Care Reform Update.

CMS’ Opportunity: A Lawsuit Offers A Chance To Reform Physician Payment

Brian Klepper and David C. Kibbe

Posted 10/25/11 on the Health Affairs Blog

By mid-November, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must respond to the legal complaint filed in a Maryland federal court by six Augusta, Georgia family physicians.

These doctors are not asking for money, but for relief from the negative effects brought about by CMS’ twenty year reliance on the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) for valuing doctors’ work. They are asking CMS to enforce the Federal Advisory Committee Act(FACA), which requires that regulatory agencies shield themselves from undue special interest influence. In the process, they are asking CMS to rethink Medicare’s approach to physician payment, with a mind toward recognizing and valuing primary care’s ability to treat the whole patient within a larger system of care. They are asking CMS to develop payment policy that supports the needs of patients over those of professional groups.

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CLASS is Dismissed

Roger Collier

Posted 10/16/11 on Health Care Reform Update

It happened in the usual Washington way: first, the rumor, then the denial, and then (on a Friday, so as to miss the weekday press), the official admission. The Affordable Care Act’s Community Living Assistance Services and Support program (the CLASS Act) has been abandoned by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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