Category Archives: In and Around Washington

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.

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.

CMS Part B Drug Demo Unlikely to Move Ahead

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Centers_for_Medicare_and_Medicaid_Services_logoJust before Thanksgiving, top Senate Democrats asked the White House not to issue a final rule on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) proposed Part B Drug Payment Model – a national program that would significantly reduce reimbursement for Part B drugs. This was  a good sign for our efforts against the proposal, and on November 21, we passed an important deadline for CMMI to release a final rule. We are now within a 60-day window of the new Administration taking office, which, if a final rule were to be released, due to a series of administrative rules in Congress, makes it much easier for the new Administration to simply pull back the rule rather than having to do it legislatively.

Simply put: we passed a critical deadline, and we’re very optimistic that we will not see a final rule on the Medicare Part B Drug demonstration for the remainder of the current Administration. ACCC spoke out strongly against this ill-conceived proposal. Hundreds of ACCC members weighed in with their members of Congress, and ACCC produced financial analysis that we shared with the committees of jurisdiction in both the Senate and House of Representatives that showed precisely how devastating cuts to Part B drug reimbursement under this proposed model would be on both practices and hospitals. ACCC thanks you for your efforts to block this poorly-conceived experiment. This is a victory for cancer patients and providers across the country who can now continue to provide high-quality cancer care close to home.

With a new year and a new Administration upon us, we will continue to face both opportunities and challenges in the oncology policy landscape. ACCC is committed to preserving the cancer delivery infrastructure, and we will continue to work with policymakers to develop thoughtful policies around value-based care and an appropriate, sustainable reimbursement system for all settings of care.

Why It’s Important to Carefully Examine Your Practice’s 2015 PQRS and QRUR Reports

by Brittney Fairman, Policy Analyst, ACCC

Centers_for_Medicare_and_Medicaid_Services_logoOn September 26, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made available the 2015 Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) Feedback Reports and the 2015 Annual Quality and Resource Use Reports (QRURs) for every group practice and solo practitioner nationwide. The reports identify providers by their Medicare-enrolled Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and reflect who satisfactorily reported data on quality measures under PQRS and, in the QRURs, how physicians performed in 2015 on the quality and cost measures used to calculate the 2017 Value Modifier. Importantly, these reports will determine whether a practice or solo practitioner will receive a bonus or negative payment adjustment in 2017.

In 2017, those who fail to meet the 2015 PQRS reporting requirements may be subject to a penalty of up to two percent, and practices may face a Value Modifier penalty of up to four percent when performance is compared to national quality and cost performance.

ACCC  encourages members to carefully examine these reports, particularly for inaccuracies, and contact CMS with any questions or concerns about perceived discrepancies. The window to request an informal review is September 26 – November 30, 2016. These reports are not automatically distributed, but must be accessed by authorized representatives from the CMS Enterprise Portal using an Enterprise Identity Data Management (EIDM) account established with CMS.

Reviewing these reports is particularly important in the context of new requirements under the Quality Payment Program (QPP) which will determine reimbursement based on similar measures starting in 2019.

If you are having trouble getting an adequate response from CMS after having contacted them about inadequacies in your PQRS or QRUR Report, please contact  Brittney Fairman at bfairman@accc-cancer.org.


For questions about the 2015 Annual QRUR, 2017 Value Modifier or how to request an Informal Review, contact the Physician Value Help Desk: Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM EST             Phone: 1-888-734-6433 (option 3);  Email: pyhelpdesk@cms.hhs.gov

For PQRS and EIDM questions, contact the QualityNet Help Desk:                                       Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM EST;  Phone: 1-866-288-8912 (TTY 1-877-715-6222);           Email: qnetsupport@hcqis.org

 

CMS 2017 OPPS & MPFS Final Rules: Top-Level Takeaways

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Centers_for_Medicare_and_Medicaid_Services_logoThis week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final CY 2017 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) rules. ACCC is currently analyzing the rules and will hold a webinar for members with more in-depth information in the coming weeks. Below are some key highlights.

Outpatient Prospective Payment Systems CY 2017 Final Rule

CMS estimates that the policies in the final rule will increase OPPS payments by 1.7% in 2017. The big news: in the final rule, the agency goes forward with the site-neutral payment provision for new off-campus provider based departments (PBDs):

  • Newly built or acquired off-campus PBDs: CMS finalized its proposal to no longer allow new off-campus PBDs (that were not billing under OPPS as of November 2, 2015) to bill under OPPS beginning January 1, 2017. CMS is finalizing the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) as the applicable payment system, but is also establishing new MPFS rates specifically so that hospitals can be paid directly for these new (what CMS is calling “non-excepted”) items and services. Hospitals will be paid under the MPFS at these new rates, which will be billed on the institutional claim and must be billed with a new claim line modifier “PN” to indicate that an item or service is non-excepted. For 2017, the payment rate for these new services will generally be 50% of the OPPS rate (with some exceptions, including payment for separately payable drugs, which will not be reduced). Packaging and certain other OPPS policies will continue to apply. Important: CMS specifically notes that items and services provided at new off-campus PBDs will continue to be reported on the hospital cost report and therefore eligible for 340B drug discounts if the parent hospital is a 340B eligible hospital. Find discussion of the impact of this policy on 340B discounts on pages 648-649 of the final rule.
  • Existing off-campus PBDs: CMS largely backed off its proposal to limit the expansion of outpatient items and services that can be billed under OPPS for existing off-campus provider-based facilities. PBDs that were billing under OPPS prior to November 2, 2015, can continue to bill for those services under OPPS—and expand those services beyond the 19 clinical families CMS had originally defined in the proposed rule. However, CMS has said that these facilities must remain at the same physical address to continue to bill under OPPS unless it is an extraordinary circumstance, such as a natural disaster. This may be short lived though as CMS also indicated it will continue to look at this and that the agency is “interested in what data…could be collected that would allow us to implement a limitation on service expansion” for these exempted facilities.
  • Packaging Policies:
    • CMS is finalizing its proposal to create 25 additional C-APCs, which are primarily major surgery APCs within the various existing C-APC clinical families.
    • The agency is finalizing its proposal to base packaging on a claim, rather than on date of service, so that services that are provided during a hospital stay that spans more than one day are packaged.
    • CMS finalized the expansion of a policy that excludes molecular pathology tests from CMS’ laboratory packaging policy to other Advanced Diagnostic Laboratory Tests (ADLTs).

Physician Fee Schedule CY 2017 Final Rule

The CY 2017 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule final rule focuses on policies aimed at improving pay for primary care, chronic care management, mental health care, and diabetes prevention. The rule’s provisions are expected to have a neutral impact on hematology/oncology, radiation oncology, and radiation therapy centers, and a -1% impact on radiology. Select cancer-related provisions include:

  • Payment for Mammography Services: CMS finalized a new coding framework based on new CPT coding for mammography services. The coding revision reflects use of current technology used in furnishing these services, including a transition from film to digital imaging equipment and elimination of separate coding for computer-aided detection services. CMS is maintaining current valuation for the technical component of mammography services in order to implement coding and payment changes over several years.
  • Medicare Telehealth Services: CMS finalized the addition of several codes to the list of services eligible to be furnished via telehealth, including: advance care planning services, end-stage renal disease related services for dialysis, and critical care consultations furnished via telehealth using new Medicare G-codes. CMS is also finalizing payment policies related to the use of a new place of service code specifically designed to report services furnished via telehealth.
  • Appropriate Use Criteria for Advanced Imaging Services: The Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) of 2014 established a new program to promote the use of appropriate use criteria (AUC) for advanced diagnostic imaging services under fee-for-service Medicare. As a component of the Medicare AUC program, CMS finalized the first eight priority clinical areas, which include cancer of the lung (primary or metastatic, suspected or diagnosed). CMS also finalized the clinical decision support mechanism (CDSM) application to allow for preliminary or full qualification; the deadline for the first round of applications is March 1, 2017.

View fact sheets for both rules here: OPPS and PFS.

 

Connecting the Moonshot to Patients

By Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

ACCC President Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, welcomes conference attendees.

ACCC President Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, welcomes conference attendees.

The Cancer Moonshot framed Thursday’s  sessions at the ACCC 33rd National Oncology Conference in St. Louis. “I’ve been privileged to be part of the conversations around the Moonshot,” ACCC President Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, told attendees in her opening remarks. On Monday Dr. Crews participated in panel discussion at the White House as part of the Moonshot Task Force Report unveiling. With a goal of making a decade’s worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in five years—it’s an “audacious” initiative that will bring challenges and significant opportunities to community oncology, she said.

In a heartfelt video message to conference attendees, Vice President Joe Biden, called community cancer centers the “bridge” between the Moonshot and cancer patients. “For the overwhelming majority of those patients who are diagnosed [with cancer], the next step leads to you,” he said. “Community oncologists treat as much as 85 percent of cancer patients . . . .Not only do your patients need you, your country needs you.”

It was a message reiterated at the end of the day by Anabella Aspiras, Director for Patient Engagement, Cancer Moonshot Task Force, in a session exploring how the Cancer Moonshot will affect providers in the community setting. “You truly connect the work of the Cancer Moonshot to cancer patients,” she told attendees. Ms. Aspiras highlighted the three Moonshot reports announced on Monday:

The Vice President’s Executive Report, a summary of work accomplished to date and challenges that must be addressed, which was presented to President Obama on Monday. The report outlines five strategic imperatives:

  • Realign incentives in the research system
  • Enhance prevention efforts
  • Engage patients as partners in research
  • Expand access to care
  • Convene a national conversation about cost.

The Task Force Report, covers the implementation plans for accelerating progress and includes Moonshot efforts underway over the past year.

The Blue Ribbon Panel Report, which integrates feedback into the panels 10 recommendations.

Anabella Aspiras and Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, at the ACCC National Oncology Conference.

Anabella Aspiras  with ACCC President Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, at the Cancer Moonshot Report unveiling earlier this week.

In her remarks, Ms. Aspiras called attention to existing ACCC initiatives that support the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations, including the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology (ICLIO) and ACCC’s educational work related to integrating biomarker testing in the community setting.

In her role at the Moonshot Task Force, Ms. Aspiras’ primary responsibility is to represent the voice of the patient in four areas: addressing cancer inequities, enhancing community cancer care, improving clinical trial participation (accrual and retention) in particular in terms of under-represented populations; and survivorship. Research must benefit all segments of society, Aspiras said. “We must ensure advances in treatment are distributed equally.”

In closing, Ms. Aspiras thanked ACCC members for the work they do. “You bridge the gap between our efforts on the Cancer Moonshot and the patients we aspire to reach,” she said. “Every day you change the face of cancer as we know it.”

Stay tuned for more from the ACCC 33rd National Oncology Conference. Follow the conferences highlights on Twitter #ACCCNOC.

 

With Final MACRA Rule, CMS Increases Flexibility

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Healthcare costsOn Friday, October 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final rule on the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP).  ACCC is conducting an in-depth analysis of the rule; however, an initial look reveals that CMS has heard the stakeholders’ message  loud and clear: Make the transition to MACRA as simple and flexible as possible. Here are some top-level highlights from the final rule:

  • Low-volume threshold exemption: the agency broadened the low-volume threshold exemption from the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), exempting practices with less than $30,000 in Medicare charges or fewer than 100 unique Medicare patients per year. This will exclude about one-third of physicians from having to report under the Quality Payment Program (QPP).
  • Pick your pace: CMS is allowing physicians to “pick their pace” in 2017, enabling physicians to avoid negative penalties in 2019 by reporting on some data (i.e., one quality measure) for some period of time. The takeaway: even minimal performance reporting will exempt physicians from any penalties, and opportunities for a shorter, 90-day reporting period will make providers eligible for positive adjustments. (Providers must start collecting data between January 1, 2017, and October  2, 2017, and report no later than March 31, 2018.)
  • Resource use category weighted zero in first year: MIPS has four components, and originally the resource use (cost) category was going to account for 10% of your score starting in 2017. CMS has now said this category will hold zero percent weight toward your MIPS score in the first year [in 2017, the percentages will be: 60% quality measures, 25% advancing care information (EHR use), and 15% clinical improvement activities].
  • Expanding opportunities to participate in APMs: CMS has also said it plans to expand opportunities to participate in models that qualify as “advanced alternative payment models” (APMs) in 2017 and 2018. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) also informed Oncology Care Model (OCM) practices on Friday, October 14, that CMS is amending the program to allow OCM practices to take two-sided risk as early as January 2017 to qualify as an advanced APM (two years earlier than the model originally allowed).

In our comments on the proposed rule, ACCC asked for increased flexibility for practices who are still building the infrastructure to meet these requirements, and a streamlining of reporting requirements as our members increasingly engage in new delivery models and navigate the path to value-based care. ACCC’s major concerns were around timeline and administrative burden – in the final rule, CMS was responsive in many ways, but ACCC will continue to work with the agency to reduce regulatory burden and make this a workable payment system for our members.

For more information, CMS launched a website for physicians that explains the program and allows you to explore and identify different measures that are most meaningful to your practice. Find a summary of the rule here. The AMA and ASCO also have great checklists on how to prepare for participation in the QPP.

 

CMS Eases MACRA Quality Payment Program Timeline

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Centers_for_Medicare_and_Medicaid_Services_logoIn response to considerable pressure from industry stakeholders, medical groups and policymakers, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced last week that it would provide increased flexibility for practices to report out and comply with new data and performance requirements under the Quality Payment Program (QPP), created by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) passed last year.

In a blog post titled “Plans for the Quality Payment Program in 2017: Pick Your Pace,” Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt lays out four pathways to compliance with the new Quality Payment Program (in order of easiest to the hardest):

  • Report some data.  Providers can avoid a negative penalty by submitting some data as required by the Quality Payment Program, including data from after January 1, 2017. CMS states this option is “designed to ensure that your system is working and that you are prepared for broader participation in 2018 and 2019.” This option allows you to avoid a negative payment adjustment in 2019.
  • Participate for only part of the calendar year. Providers may submit data as required by the Quality Payment Program for a reduced number of days (not the whole year), and the performance period could begin after January 2017. Under this option, you could still qualify for a small positive payment adjustment in 2019.
  • If you’re ready to go in 2017, participate for the full calendar year. For practices that are ready to go and choose this option, their performance period will begin January 1, 2017, and they will submit data under the Quality Payment Program for a full year. These practices will qualify for a modest positive payment adjustment in 2019. CMS expects many practices will be able to do this.
  • Participate through an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM).** While the three previous options would fall under the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track, the fourth option allows providers who are receiving a certain percentage of Medicare payments or seeing a certain number of Medicare patients through a qualifying APM (the provider is taking two-sided or “more than nominal” risk) to participate through the Advanced APM track. These providers would qualify for a 5% incentive payment in 2019 in addition to any savings produced through the APM and would not be subject to MIPS requirements. (**Remember CMS lays out a very high bar to qualify for the APM track in the proposed rule: 90% of physicians are expected to choose MIPS).

Until 2019, physicians will see an annual 0.5% increase in payments, at which point payments will then be determined by performance in the Quality Payment Program either through MIPS or an advanced APM.

CMS has said the decision to provide leniency was in recognition of the “wide diversity of physician practices.” The agency has also said it is considering alternative start dates, shorter performance periods, increased flexibility for small or rural practices, and finding other ways for physicians to get more experience with the program requirements before being penalized.

CMS originally proposed that providers begin to report on measures outlined under the Quality Payment Program in January 2017 but that payments would not reflect that performance period until 2019. However with the new guidance from CMS, the easiest option essentially does not require real provider participation in 2017, but allows providers to test whether their systems are ready to fully participate in the future. While the details of the measures will remain unclear until a final rule is released, the Quality Payment Program will require practices to submit information on quality measures, how they use technology, and what improvement activities they are undertaking.

Through our comments to the agency in  June, ACCC advocated for increased flexibility and more time for physicians to prepare for undertaking the new requirements under the Quality Payment Program. We also asked the agency to restructure the APM requirements so that they are more achievable.

We commend CMS for releasing flexibility prior to a final rule on MACRA, which we expect to see later this fall, and ask for continued accommodations for practices that face myriad new requirements in the coming months and years.

MACRA Update—Will CMS Delay the Start Date?

By Brittney Fairman, Policy Analyst, ACCC

Calendar pages and clockLast week Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), told the Senate Finance Committee that the agency was considering “alternative start dates,” for Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) after receiving more than 3,000 comments on its proposed rule implementing the Quality Payment Program. The final rule is expected in November, leaving only a few months before the proposed reporting start date of January 1, 2017. Slavitt also said the agency is taking a close look at how the proposed rule would impact rural and small providers, particularly the low volume threshold that would exempt small practices from certain reporting requirements.

In our June 27 comment letter on the MACRA proposed rule, ACCC urged CMS to:

  • Delay implementation for six months to one year, to give physicians the time needed to build infrastructure and implement the Quality Payment Program effectively
  • Ensure that the agency provides adequate accommodations and protections for small group practices and solo practitioners
  • Modify the “resource use” methodology to ensure that eligible clinicians are held responsible only for the costs they can control
  • Include all Oncology Care Model (OCM) quality measures in MIPS
  • Refine the APM requirements to offer a meaningful alternative to MIPS and adopt policies to promote the availability of a wide variety of APMs and Physician-Focused Payment Models (PFPMs).

With this proposed rule, CMS aims to transition Medicare to a new physician payment program focused on quality, value, and accountability over volume. The MACRA legislation enacted by Congress outlines essentially two separate payment pathways for physicians under Medicare: The Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and the Alternative Payment Models (APMs). Both pathways are intended to drive the development of value-based payment. ACCC supports payment reform efforts; however, it is critical that CMS construct these pathways so that they are realistic, achievable avenues to Part B reimbursement.

ACCC will continue to keep members informed as MACRA implementation unfolds. For a deeper dive on new requirements under the Quality Payment Program, ACCC members can access the recent ACCC webinar, “MACRA CMS Proposed Rule: What You Need to Know” on demand (login required). The American Medical Association (AMA) has created a MACRA Checklist that outlines steps providers can take now to prepare, as we await the final rule.

Key Takeaways from Congressional Hearing on “Medicare Drug Experiment”

By Brittney Fairman, Policy Analyst, ACCC

Capitol BuildingOn Tuesday, May 17, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health held a hearing titled “The Obama Administration’s Medicare Drug Experiment: The Patient and Doctor Perspective,” which focused on CMS’ proposed Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model. The Subcommittee heard from witnesses representing the provider and patient communities, including:

  • Debra Patt, MD, MPH, MBA, Vice President of Texas Oncology and Medical Director of The US Oncology Network;
  • Marcia Boyle, President and Founder of the Immune Deficiency Foundation;
  • Michael Schweitz, MD, FACP, MACR, National Advocacy Chair of the Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations;
  • Heather Block, a patient advocate; and
  • Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center.

Notably, the hearing echoed many of the concerns ACCC and fellow stakeholders have been voicing since CMS released the proposal in early March. Key takeaways include:

CMS is operating under a false premise that there are always less costly therapeutic equivalents available to treat patients. In the case of oncology, treatment situations where there are true clinical substitutes are “few and far between,” Dr. Patt pointed out. When a therapeutically equivalent drug does exist, those drugs are not always available to every clinician nor are they always most conducive to a patient’s specific treatment plan.

The proposed demonstration will create barriers to patient access and have a disproportionate impact on rural areas. With a lack of appropriate safeguards, healthcare providers fear the demonstration program would create additional financial pressures that would push rural or small physician practices out of business.  For patients in rural areas – or patients that require more expensive therapies – this may cause difficulty in accessing oncology care.

CMS’ proposal is akin to an involuntary clinical trial. Witnesses and Committee members pointed out that CMS’ experiment is not unlike a clinical trial, requiring participation of providers and their patients for the purposes of data collection. However, unlike a clinical trial, participation is involuntary and the proposal lacks critical patient safeguards – patients may never know if their provider is operating under a control or experimental arm of CMS’ demonstration. This randomized trial will, unknowingly and unwillingly, limit patient access to needed care.

Average Sales Price (ASP), by definition, is an average. Many community oncologists – often smaller practices – are not able to gain price advantages and are currently paying well above ASP for Part B drugs. Any further reductions to reimbursement will make it impossible for providers to cover the acquisition cost of many, if not most, cancer treatments.

Witnesses also addressed a series of “carve-outs” that have been discussed by policymakers, including for oncology providers, the Oncology Care Model (OCM) participating practices, or rural providers. Dr. Patt, however, pointed out that “there’s no right way to do the wrong thing.” Most witnesses called for a full withdraw of CMS’ proposal.

These points and more can be found in ACCC’s comments, submitted to CMS in early May. ACCC is continuing to monitor Congressional efforts on the CMS proposal.