Category Archives: Across the Nation

What’s in a Name? Is “Tumor Registry” an Outdated Term?

By Holly J. Kulhawick, CTR

Jigsaw puzzle question mark-smThe National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) recently asked members on its Facebook page, “Is tumor registry an outdated term?” The responses were spirited and detailed the ways tumor registry and the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR) credential can be confusing. For example, NCRA members noted that some of their colleagues and patients think they help patients register for treatment or that a CTR “certifies” tumors. There was a strong sense that the current terminology belittles what cancer registrars do, or gives the impression the work is less technically sophisticated than it is. In a time when registrars are struggling to defend the profession from automation and the fear that this automation will compromise data quality, the Facebook discussion suggested the time has come for the profession to revisit its terminology.

First, the term tumor is outdated on a number of fronts. Cancer registrars track more than tumors. They collect information on blood cancers and some benign and premalignant conditions. Second, the term tumor registrar is confusing. What does a “tumor registrar” do? A more descriptive term, such as Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager, explains in three words the actual work of a registrar. Many NCRA members suggested this would help to emphasize the analytical aspects of the job and allow them to highlight to hospital administrators the role they play in supporting the cancer program and other oncology support services. Some facilities are already taking the lead, re-naming their Cancer Registry Department as the Oncology Support Services Department and updating their staff titles to Data Analysts. For some real-world examples of how CTRs can support an organization’s cancer program read “Unlock the Potential of the Cancer Registrar” (Oncology Issues, January/February 2016).

The Facebook posts also noted that the lack of clarity associated with “tumor registrar” does not help a profession that struggles to be recognized. A clear, concise title would go a long way to help elevate the work in the eyes of other health professionals. A change in terminology may also help with the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), which is a quality reporting program that encourages individual eligible professionals and group practices to report information to Medicare on the quality of care. A title such as Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager flags the cancer registrar as someone who can assist with PQRS requirements, helping to advance the role of the registrar.

A name change would also help with the general public. Some registrars noted that they have spent time explaining to patients that they are not the hospital staff to help them register for chemotherapy. A more direct or clear term would help to eliminate this confusion. The concept of registration—while reflecting accurately the work of a CTR—makes some patients nervous. When they learn they are part of a large cancer registry, they want no part of it, believing it is too much government oversight. If the terminology were changed to Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager, it might better convey that skilled and certified professionals are collecting the data and its use is highly regulated and needed to advance cancer care and treatment.

The Facebook discussion suggested there is strong agreement on possible new terminology: Oncology Data Analyst or Oncology Data Manager. But what are the next steps? The National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) established a task force in 2008 to study the issue. At that time, there was insufficient member support to make a change. If members want to bring the issue to the forefront again, they can use NCRA’s formal process for members to be heard through its Advocacy and Technical Practice Directors (ATPDs). These board members serve as the liaisons between members and NCRA on matters of advocacy and technical practice. Interested members can go to the Raise Your Voice webpage to contact their ATPD to get the process started.


Guest blogger Holly J. Kulhawick, CTR, is Remote Abstractor for HCA/Methodist Healthcare San Antonio and Flatiron. 

Learn more about the pivotal role your cancer registry can play in supporting your cancer program, during a session on how to “Improve Your Data Collection—Streamline Your Accreditation & Quality Reporting Processes” at the upcoming ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, March 29-31, in Washington, D.C.  Read the full agenda here

 

OCM Evolving Best Practices: Lessons to Date

By Monique J. Marino, Senior Manager, Publications & Content, ACCC

ThinkstockPhotos-507273299Last June, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that nearly 200 physician group practices and 17 health insurance companies had been selected to participate in the Oncology Care Model (OCM), the first oncology-specific alternative payment model (APM) pilot. (According to the latest information on the OCM website, participant numbers now stand at 190 practices and 16 payers.)  At about 7 months into this brave new world, participants are beginning to share some lesson learned. At last week’s Cancer Center Business Summit in Las Vegas, a panel discussion on The Oncology Care Model: Evolving Best Practices, shed light on some of the challenges participants have experienced to date with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) model.

Panelist Diana Verrilli, Senior Vice President, Payer and Practice Management Solutions, McKesson Specialty Health, described the OCM as a “thoughtful and comprehensive model that is changing how people are being treated at our practices every day.” With 14 US Oncology practices—about 800 physicians—participating in the OCM, Verrilli shared three tangible outcomes that participants hope to see come out of the program: 1) a change in physician behavior, 2) improved use of clinical pathways, and 3) better patient outcomes, such as helping patients avoid hospitalizations.

OCM-related challenges that US Oncology practices have faced to date include:

  1. Developing processes to easily identify patients on oral oncolytics.
  2. Finding the resources and time required for practice transformation, for example, OCM participants are finding completion of the IOM care plan to be both time and staff intensive.
  3. Developing the complex care partnerships and pooling arrangements necessary to succeed under the OCM, e.g., adequate physician compensation.
  4. Creating processes and tools to needed to meet data submission and reporting requirements.

“If I could change one thing about the OCM,” Verrilli ended. “It would be to reduce the number of quality measures and the amount of documentation that is required.”

Fifty-five Flatiron practices across 20 states are also participating in the OCM. According to panelist Brenton Fargnoli, MD, Associate Medical Director Strategic Initiatives, Flatiron Health, challenges facing these practices relate to:

  1. Care management. How do you identify eligible patients? Keep track of data? Inform patients about their care plans—engaging and educating patients in their care.
  2. Program evaluation and reporting. How do you measure quality? Improve practice performance? Report to the OCM registry in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible?
  3. Revenue cycle management. How do you optimize practice income in the OCM model?

To meet these challenges, Flatiron is working with its practices to develop turnkey solutions, such as:

  1. Care management. Development of an e-process to do patient identification at point of care; Auto-generation of the IOM Care Plans in the EHR.
  2. Program evaluation and reporting. Structured data capture in the EHR; Auto-generation of an OCM Quality Measures Dashboard and OCM Registry reporting requirements.
  3. Revenue cycle management. Implementation of MEOS billing and collections tracking; Cost of care analytics.

When asked how the OCM could be improved, Dr. Fargnoli expressed sentiments similar to Verilli’s, “What’s working? Practices are very engaged and want to see the OCM model succeed. What’s not working as well—OCM rules and requirements are so complex that the majority of provider time is being spent on these documentation and reporting requirements.”

Finally, panelist Barbara McAneny, MD, Chief Executive Officer, New Mexico Oncology Hematology Consultants, shared concerns about the performance targets under the OCM, “If I could change one thing about the OCM, it would be the methodology by which the agency calculates targets so that practices can actually hit them. So how can CMS refine its targets? Give providers a year to collect the clinical data so that we can figure out why some patients are more expensive to treat than others. Using these data, we can work together to better refine OCM targets.”

For OCM participants interested in expanding the conversation, on Friday, March 31, 2017, ACCC is hosting the ACCC Oncology Care Model (OCM) Collaborative Workshop at the Renaissance Washington, DC, Downtown Hotel. Exclusively for OCM participants, the one-day event offers valuable, peer-to-peer learning with like-minded OCM professionals. The workshop will include snapshot presentations from OCM practices with innovative ideas and solutions for meeting OCM requirements, workgroups on hot topics, and a facilitated Q&A session. See registration details below.


The March 31, ACCC OCM Collaborative Workshop is an exclusive event for providers participating in the OCM. All attendees must pre-register for the OCM Collaborative Workshop through the CANCERSCAPE registration portal. To register, select the one-day OCM Workshop during registration checkout. Only those who are pre-registered for this workshop will be admitted. REGISTER TODAY.

Learn more about the ACCC OCM Collaborative here. This invitation-only platform provides a targeted discussion board and access to OCM-focused events. If your program is participating in the OCM and you have not received an invitation to join the ACCC OCM Collaborative, please fill out the form on the Collaborative Homepage to gain access to this peer-to-peer learning resource.

On the Road to Value-Based Care: Operational & Cultural Change

By Monique J. Marino, Senior Manager, Publications & Content, ACCC

2017-Open-Road-smWhile there can be no single roadmap for transitioning to value-based care, a panel session at the 2017 Cancer Business Summit, February 6-7, 2017, co-hosted by the Association of Community Cancer Centers, focused on  Operational & Cultural Change  that can help cancer programs move forward on the path ahead.  Sarah Chavarria, Chief People Officer, NantHealth, shared that successful organizational alignment is centered around these key concepts:

  • Strategy: mission, vision, and values; organizational goals; brand.
  • Structure: placing the right talent in the right role; holding people accountable for meeting organizational goals.
  • Talent: managing against a set of value-based competencies; assessing, developing, and growing the “best and brightest.”
  • Rewards: creating incentives that drive collaboration to deliver on organizational goals; these incentives should be flexible in design to attract and retain top talent—in other words, identifying what your employees value so that the organization can package them and reward behavior they want.
  • Systems and processes: these should enable decision making and responsiveness, and support effective execution.

“Cancer programs should create a ‘Deliberate Culture,’” Chavarria concluded. “If you are not deliberate in defining your culture, it will just happen; and it will not be what you want.”

Panelist James Grayson, a High Reliability Organization Specialist at West Cancer Center, outlined five key steps to help cancer programs succeed operationally and culturally:

Step. 1 Set your bar higher than everyone else’s.

Step 2. Hire people with potential.

Step 3. Invest in your front-line management team.

Step 4. Invest heavily in safety, risk management, leadership, and talent development.

Step 5. Be the cancer program your patients and staff need you to be.

Rounding out the panel was 2017 Cancer Business Summit Innovator Award Winner, Barry Russo, MBA, Chief Executive Officer, The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, who told attendees about the steps his cancer program took to move to value-based care, including:

  • Centralizing patient intake from 9 practice locations to 1 location, streamlining and improving care coordination.
  • Establishing triage as its own business unit.
  • Implementing an internal case management program to facilitate proactive intervention and risk stratification of patients.
  • Growing supportive care services (an effort that requires continual identification of new funding avenues), such as palliative care, chaplaincy services, nurse navigation, survivorship, etc.
  • Implementing a new patient education program.
  • Identifying technology gaps and improving decision-support around data and analytics.
  • Developing communication tools around value-based care to share with employer and payer communities.

To help cancer programs prepare for the change to value-based care, Russo offered five high-level takeaways:

  1. Deliver a consistent message; identify the changes needed and understand how to make these changes.
  2. Establish a new norm—while still a physician-centric care delivery model, ALL members of the care team are essential to healing lives after cancer. Value-based care requires cultural change and significant organizational re-engineering.
  3. Understand that staff and clinician education is a journey and not a destination. Accept that leadership must focus on education, re-education, and then more education. Effective team building requires repetition—leadership rounds, nursing forums, regular reports from pillars in the cancer program, etc.
  4. Be aware that nursing needs a hyper-focus. Nurses enjoy the most touch points with patients, so nursing stability is of the utmost importance to successful cancer programs.
  5. Build strong teams at EVERY level of the organization; teams that can process constant change. The move to value-based care is not for the faint of heart. Staff must be able to accept feedback; brutal honesty is essential to the process. Staff must accept that the move to value-based care means change is interrupting their day, not making it easier.

Learn more about what lies ahead for value-based care at the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting CANCERSCAPE, March 29-31, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Join your peers to hear from leading experts and decision-makers about the evolving healthcare policy landscape, the latest on alternative payment models, data collection and quality measures, and more. Explore the meeting agenda here.

 

What Happened in Vegas: Highlights from the 2017 Cancer Center Business Summit

By Monique J. Marino, Senior Manager, Publications & Content, ACCC

Person in information spaceLast week in Las Vegas, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) co-hosted the 2017 Cancer Center Business Summit, a two-day conference focused on how the business of oncology is being transformed by the dual drivers of science and technology. Featured speakers and panelists from cancer programs, technology innovators, patient advocate groups, and payers came together to explore how new technology impacts the delivery and future of cancer care. Session topics highlighted clinical pathways, advanced alternative payment models (APMs), patient-centered care, genomic science, and more. Below are highlights from three conference sessions.

A session on Clinical Pathways: With What Result? looked at how the use of pathways and guidelines have changed clinical practice in oncology and created value. Panelist Marcus Neubauer, MD, Medical Director, Oncology Services, McKesson Specialty Health and The US Oncology Network, offered four forward-looking takeaways:

  1. Quality, performance, and resource consumption will be measured for ALL Medicare providers via MIPS (the Merit-based Incentive Payment System) or APMs.
  2. The value of drugs and technology will be scrutinized carefully by ALL providers—public and private.
  3. Adherence to clinical pathways is a cornerstone for value-based care models.
  4. Practices must transform to meet value-based requirements; provide enhanced services; and be able to negotiate reimbursement contracts with payers that support these aligned efforts.

The focus on new reimbursement models continued in a session on Alternative Payment in Oncology: Today & Tomorrow.  Panelists offered perspectives on their experiences with APMs to date and their outlook for the future. Kelly Blair, MPA, Vice President Consulting, Sg2, shared results from a member survey, which found that:

  • 64% of Sg2 members are NOT participating in oncology-specific value-based or alternative payment programs.
  • Operational issues were cited as the biggest barrier to participation.
  • Of those that are participating, 80% are participating in the Oncology Care Model (OCM).

Panelist Dave Terry, Chief Executive Officer, Archway Health, offered lessons learned implementing bundled payment models:

  • Develop accountable incentives in your bundled payment contracts.
  • Leverage data analytics.
  • Ensure specialist engagement.
  • Embrace innovation.

And panelist Cynthia Terrano, Vice President Payer Strategies, Moffitt Cancer Center, noted the importance of getting payers involved in the conversation. “The train has left the station on APMs,” she told meeting attendees. “Cancer programs need to reach out to their payers now to develop partnerships and experiment with different alternative payment models.”

With data collection a pivotal piece of value-based payment, what help might lie ahead for community oncology? In a discussion on Big Data Platforms to Support Community Oncology, panelist Robert S. Miller, MD, Vice President and Medical Director, CancerLinQ, shared his perspective of what the future may hold, including:

  1. Widespread data sharing.
  2. Meaningful penetration of actionable oncology-specific technology.
  3. Real insights gleaned from unsupervised machine learning applied to next generation sequencing (NGS) output.
  4. Big data platforms supporting external compliance reporting.
  5. Real-world evidence used in regulatory decisions.
  6. Greater structured data capture in EHRs embedded in clinician workflows—a culture change aided by technology solutions.

At the end of a busy two days of sessions, one message came across loud and clear—it will truly take a village to deliver cancer care in the 21st century. Beyond the multidisciplinary cancer care team, this village will include technology innovators that are designing the IT infrastructure necessary to move from fee-based to value-based care; third-party laboratories that process and interpret the genetic and genomic tests required to deliver personalized or precision medicine; and specialty pharmacies that are critical to patients accessing life-saving medications and the financial assistance services they need to afford them.


March 29–31, 2017, in Washington, D.C., the ACCC 43rd Annual Meeting CANCERSCAPE will bring together policy experts and key stakeholders from leading national organizations to share insights on the status of the Affordable Care Act and how value-based care, drug pricing reform, and changes to Medicare will affect cancer programs and practices. Learn more. Early Bird registration rates end Friday, February 17.

World Cancer Day 2017—Bringing the Message Home

by ACCC Communications

WCD_LOGO_4C“We can. I can.” This is the campaign slogan of World Cancer Day, an international campaign focused on increasing cancer awareness on the national, organizational, and individual level.

This February 4, 2017, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) stands shoulder to shoulder with cancer care providers, patients, and families across the globe in recognition of World Cancer Day. Despite advances in diagnosis and treatment, each year more than 8 million people die of cancer worldwide. By the year 2025, this number is projected to increase to more than 11 million.

With the approach of World Cancer Day, ACCC salutes its members in cancer programs and practices across the country who are embodying the “We can. I can.” call to action every day, not only in caring for patients with cancer, but engaging their communities through outreach, education, and screening events throughout the whole year. Here are just a few recent examples of ACCC member initiatives:

ACCC acknowledges all of its members for their “we can” spirit that connects cancer programs and practices across the country in peer-to-peer learning—sharing knowledge, experiences, and solutions—to the benefit of the patients and the communities they serve.

Cooling Down ICER? Five Questions to Consider

By ACCC Communications

Three jigsaw puzzles pieces (sm)Although the value-based reimbursement train has definitely left the station and is picking up speed, those in the oncology community continue to grapple with the thorny issues around understanding and defining value in cancer care. Treatment innovations and costs are driving the value discussion in oncology. New and emerging immuno-oncology therapies, while bringing unprecedented clinical value to many patients, often carry price tags of $100,000 a year or more, and are front and center in these discussions. Patient access in an era of high-priced pharmaceuticals continues to be a major challenge, particularly as many of these innovative therapeutics entail high co-pays and/or co-insurance payments. The result is that some patients face major hurdles to accessing these innovative options.

For those in the oncology community, staying up-to-date on current and proposed value frameworks is essential—not only to advance innovation in cancer care and to ensure patient access to new therapeutic options, but also to protect cancer program economic viability in an era where payment and reimbursement may become increasingly tied to value.

In a recent Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology (ICLIO) webinar, a panel of leading experts provided real-world perspectives on value framework development in oncology in the U.S., with a particular focus on the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), which has gained prominence in the past 18 months.  For those in the oncology community who may not be familiar with ICER, panelist Jennifer Hinckel, MSc, McGivney Global Advisors, provided background and offered the following five questions to consider in assessing the organization’s recent report related to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC):

  • Does ICER have the appropriate expertise to interpret complex clinical data given that there are not disease-specific clinical experts on staff or advisory panels?
  • Does ICER have processes in place to adequately prevent or limit bias or policy/political aims from slipping into its reports?
  • Is ICER’s approach of evaluating products close to the time of approval (or pre-approval) appropriate, given its methodology of including only randomized controlled trial (RCT) data?
  • Does ICER have sufficient staffing to review and update reports in disparate disease areas and to ensure accuracy?
  • Would ICER’s various approaches meet the standards of peer view in a widely published journal?

In a recent op-ed published in the Oncology Business Review, leading lung cancer experts (including ICLIO Advisory Committee Chair, Lee Schwartzberg, MD, FACP) suggest some level-setting principles for value frameworks including the following:

  • Have disease experts as evaluators and authors
  • Have patient-centered endpoints, conclusions, and definitions of value
  • Use rigorous methodologies reflecting evidence-based medicine
  • Apply continuous review and revision
  • Hold peer review and authorship to scientific standards.

Listen to the full ICLIO webinar discussion here.

As noted in a newly-released white paper from the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology, all of the existing first-generation value frameworks have strengths and weaknesses. Each wrestles with defining value, and each exposes inherent tensions between payer concepts of value and the perspectives of patients and providers. As the field of immuno-oncology continues to expand, all stakeholders will need to stay informed and be prepared contribute to ongoing development of value frameworks that consider not only cost and clinical benefit, but patients’ perspectives on value in cancer care.  In the months ahead as the oncology community contributes to the discussion on value determination methodologies in the context of payer negotiations and political pressure to lower costs and enact drug pricing reform, as well as working to ensure access to new and emerging immunotherapy and combination therapies, ICLIO will continue to offer support and resources for the multidisciplinary team serving patients in communities close to home.


ICLIO is an Institute of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). In September 2016,  ACCC submitted comments in response to ICER’s national call for proposed improvements to its Value Assessment Frameworks. 

ACCC Goes to Washington

By Leah Ralph, ACCC Director of Health Policy

With the transition to a new administration just days away, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) this week joined with other leading cancer organizations to speak out for community cancer care providers and the patients they serve. On January 11, the Obama White House, in conjunction with Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, hosted a morning-long event Making Health Care Better – Community Oncology.

ACCC-Delegation-at-the-White-House-sm

ACCC delegation at the White House

ACCC leadership—representing community providers from practices and cancer programs across the country—contributed to the conversation during moderated panel discussions, and provided real-world community perspectives on addressing disparities in access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment; advancing clinical trials, new technologies, and innovative models of care; and providing support and survivorship services to patients with cancer. The event capped off a year’s worth of work between the Vice President’s office and oncology stakeholders across the country, including multiple meetings with ACCC members, to advance the priorities of Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative and a commitment to achieving a decade’s worth of progress in cancer research in five years.  Don Graves, Counselor to the Vice President, thanked the cancer patients and providers in the room for their work to advance the goals of the Cancer Moonshot and, addressing the uncertainty around the future of the Vice President’s initiative, told the audience “the Cancer Moonshot will continue through you.” The Vice President recently announced he would start a nonprofit organization to continue to address the broad – and complex – issues around cancer research and funding. And late last year, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides $1.8 billion for Cancer Moonshot efforts at NIH.

ACCC-on-Capitol Hill-sm

ACCC Advocates Heading to Capitol Hill

In the afternoon, ACCC co-sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing on Innovation and Access in Quality Cancer Care. Addressing the uncertain political environment, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) highlighted some of the achievements realized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) and Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) described the bipartisan effort behind passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. Advocates were assured that funding provided under the Cures Act will be secure, regardless of the fate of the ACA. Co-sponsoring the briefing along with ACCC were the Cancer Support Community, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Community Oncology Alliance, McKesson Specialty Health, Sarah Cannon, and The US Oncology Network.

As the U.S. healthcare system continues to grapple with transformative change, sharing the story of cancer care delivery in communities where patients live, work, and vote is critical to helping policymakers and legislators understand the impact of policies, regulations, and legislation. Join ACCC for Capitol Hill Day on March 29, in Washington, D.C., and share your story.  Learn more here.

Immuno-Oncology: Moving Forward Together

By Lee S. Schwartzberg, MD, FACP, Chair, ICLIO Advisory Committee

ICLIO-More-to-Discover-white-paper-285x412

As the momentum surrounding immuno-oncology continues to build, the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology (ICLIO) is meeting the need for practical, real-world resources and education for all members of the multidisciplinary cancer care team.  Find out how in this just-released ICLIO white paper, which illuminates current progress with these exciting therapies, real-world challenges, and emerging concerns around continued access as immunotherapy moves into the community setting.

You’ll want to read Immuno-Oncology: There’s More to Discover for:

  • A concise recap of 2016 immunotherapy clinical highlights
  • An update on ICLIO education, resources, and what to expect in 2017
  • A snapshot of policy issues and pressing concerns impacting the future of immuno-oncology in practice.

In this rapidly changing landscape, I encourage all you to partner with the ICLIO. Whatever your role in caring for patients with cancer, the latest ICLIO white paper will provide insight and perspective on the evolving field of immuno-oncology.  Through ICLIO, let’s continue to move forward together on the exciting immuno-oncology journey.

Explore the hub of immuno-oncology information and resources available for the entire multidisciplinary cancer care team at accc-iclio.org and follow ICLIO for updates. ICLIO is an institute of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).

Fasten Your Seat Belts. . .

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Overlapping roadways As we head into the New Year, 2016 is rapidly receding in the rear view mirror. Still, it was quite a year. We saw the Obama Administration finalize regulations for sweeping physician payment reform in Medicare, oncology practices nationwide navigate the first year of the Oncology Care Model (OCM), policymakers try – and fail – to push through drug pricing reform with a national mandatory demonstration program, the 21st Century Cures Act signed into law, and the drug pricing debate hit a fever pitch, fueled by public scrutiny of recent spikes in drug spending and prompting a range of policy proposals to reduce spending on pharmaceuticals, raising bigger questions about how to define value in cancer care.

And after nearly eight years of a healthcare system shifting to achieve the aims – and requirements – of President Obama’s signature health reform law, the surprise election of Donald Trump and transition to a Republican administration and Congress who have prioritized repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in early 2017 – combined with unprecedentedly thin policy prescriptions on the campaign trail – mark the beginning of an uncertain, tumultuous, perhaps even bumpy period for health policy. And fasten your seat belts because it may happen fast: the first 18 months of a new presidency and congress is the most active period of policymaking in the U.S.

ACA’s Uncertain Future

With respect to the ACA, while the health reform law encompasses far more than the insurance exchanges, the public debate to date has been focused on the coverage mandate and subsidies in the individual marketplace. It’s important to note that regardless of the election results, the health insurance exchanges are doing worse than expected. The exchange markets are facing sicker-than-expected risk pools and lower enrollment, causing high premium increases and insurer withdrawals. To survive, the exchanges would have needed stabilization under any administration – meaning a Trump Administration could simply leave the exchanges untouched and effectively allow them to wither on the vine, leaving 20 million uninsured.

But President-Elect Trump has signaled that he favors politically popular consumer protections in the ACA, such as banning insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to remain on their parents’ health plan until age 26. However the path to achieve this without a requirement that individuals either obtain coverage or pay a penalty remains unclear. And while there’s no agreed-upon replacement plan, Congressional Republicans have also supported allowing the sale of health insurance across state lines, expanding the use of health savings accounts (HSAs), replacing the ACA’s health insurance subsidies with tax credits, and establishing high-risk pools. But none of these proposals would meaningfully restore access to insurance coverage for the more than 20 million people who have gained coverage under the ACA, creating a long road ahead to find ways to cover this newly expanded population in any replacement plan.

What will these changes mean for cancer patients and providers? While the scope and details remain unclear, generally, under the proposals put forward to date, cancer providers may see an increased number of patients who are under- or uninsured, and higher uncompensated care costs. For the exchange population, benefits and cost-sharing assistance will likely be less generous, which could pose significant access barriers to quality cancer care.  At the same time it’s important to note that the ACA overpromised and underperformed – while patients without access to subsidies are seeing out-of-pocket costs spike, concurrently providers’ expectations of gaining fully insured patients under the ACA have not necessarily been realized. Patients with exchange coverage have generally been sicker and more expensive to treat and, on top of that, some providers are starting to see their Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments evaporate, as agreed to under the law. Fixes to the ACA – beyond what Republicans are proposing – are needed to shore up the long-term viability of our healthcare system for both patients and providers.

The Path Ahead

As the New Year rings in the changes in Washington, D.C., there will undoubtedly be significant impact on the direction of federal policy with respect to access and coverage in 2017. Still, we expect that key market trends such as value-based purchasing will continue. While the fate of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), which was created by the ACA, remains uncertain, we suspect that Medicare’s push towards value-based payment is inherently non-partisan and the movement to test different ways to pay providers based on cost and quality is here to stay. In fact, many experts predict that 2017 will be the year value-based purchasing moves from concept to reality. CMMI has implemented more than 50 demonstration programs. Some of these are becoming mandatory, including bundled payments for cardiac care and joint replacement.  (At the same time, the Republican-controlled Congress may create some guardrails for CMMI, including limiting its ability to implement mandatory demonstrations.)  Just around the corner, Medicare physician payment is shifting from fee-for-service (FFS) to value-based purchasing as required under MACRA . Reporting on MACRA measures begins in 2017 and will determine provider Medicare reimbursement in 2019. And the pharmaceutical industry is also engaged in value-based purchasing, increasingly pursuing outcomes-based contracts with private plans.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

In 2017, ACCC members will need to consider how value-based payments will increasingly shift responsibility for managing cost and quality to providers, and how your cancer program is positioned to engage in a risk-based reimbursement structure. Providers should also prepare for a shift in coverage for patients, and anticipate how to respond to changes in access to care.

Now more than ever is the time for oncology care providers’ voices to be heard – join us in Washington, D.C., March 29-31 for ACCC’s annual policy meeting, Cancerscape, to understand how policy changes will impact your program and patients, engage in policy discussions with your colleagues, and help shape the future of healthcare policy in 2017 and beyond.  So buckle up, check out the Cancerscape agenda, and register today.

Medicare Oncology Care Model: Opportunities for Social Work Participation

By Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C

ThinkstockPhotos-467463476The oncology community continues to follow developments with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) Oncology Care Model (OCM), a program that aims to improve patient care, efficiency, effectiveness, and lower costs.

As participating cancer programs implement the changes mandated by the OCM, increased responsibilities for social work are clear.  In fact, under the model, the involvement of, and coordination with, social work is needed in a number of areas.

The OCM mandates that all patients receive patient navigation and supportive services during their treatment. These services encompass assistance in a number of areas, including financial, transportation, and facilitation of follow-up services.

As a component of the OCM, Medicare is requiring the documentation of a comprehensive Care Management Plan described in the National Academies (formerly, known as the Institute of Medicine) report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis. All patients are to receive a care plan consisting of 13 items.  Among these, there are two areas that call for social work services:

Advance Care Plans – Social work has been involved in these conversations for some time in many settings. In fact, Medicare has revised payment policies to include advance care planning (CPT code 99497; add-on CPT code 99498). While the physician is the primary provider in advance care planning conversations, members of the cancer care team, including social work and other allied healthcare professionals, have an opportunity to be involved in these conversations

Distress Screening – Another important requirement under the OCM is screening for depression during each episode of care. As part of the patient’s care plan, OCM participants are required to screen and document a plan to address a patient’s psychosocial health needs. While many cancer programs screen for distress using the NCCN Distress Thermometer, Medicare has determined that this tool is not sufficient to screen for depression under the OCM, and asks OCM participants to use the PHQ-2 and PHQ-9 for depression screening.  The PHQ-2 self-report asks two questions to determine if a more extensive evaluation is needed.  If the patient scores at a three or above, the patient is asked to complete the lengthier PHQ-9.  During this meeting, if the patient screens in for depression, social work involvement escalates.  Social work has several options for helping patients, including offering counseling services in-house or referral to an outside agency, referral to the patient’s primary care provider, oncologist, or a psychiatrist. Even if the program is providing clinical social work services, follow-up on these referrals is needed to ensure patients follow through. In addition, social work is required to follow the patient to assess improvement or the need for additional services.

Social workers play an important role in helping OCM participating programs succeed under this innovative new model. Practices that are not participating in the OCM should do a self-assessment in terms of their social work capabilities, and their ability to support patients’ psychosocial health needs. As signaled through CMMI’s inclusion of social work and patient navigation services in the OCM model, this holistic approach to cancer treatment is sure to be the future of oncology care.

If you are a participating OCM practice, be sure to join ACCC’s OCM Collaborative, an online community of OCM practices sharing best practices, tools, and tips to succeed in the OCM. Join today.


Guest blogger Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C, is manager of Cancer Support Services, Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center, Stamford Hospital, and a past member of the ACCC Board of Trustees.