Tag Archives: ACA

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.

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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.

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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.

CANCERSCAPE—ACA’s Impact on the Frontline of Care

by Amanda Patton, ACCC Communications

March 23 marked t20150317_ACCC_41st_067-ForWebhe five-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act into law. Over the last five years, nearly 16.4 million Americans have gained health coverage under the ACA.

Last week, at ACCC’s Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, in Arlington, Va., panelists Steven D’Amato, BSPharm, BCOP, executive director, New England Cancer Specialists; Wendy Andrews, BS, practice manager, Hematology/Oncology at the University of Arizona Cancer Center; and George Dahlman, executive vice president, Federal Affairs & Operations, National Patient Advocate Foundation, explored the impact of the ACA from the patient advocate and provider perspective, sharing the view from the frontlines of care delivery and patient advocacy. The discussion was moderated by ACCC Executive Director Christian Downs, JD, MHA.

One challenge panelists identified is meeting the increased demand for services driven by growing numbers of insured patients.

“In Maine we have an exchange, Maine Community Health Options. It’s been so successful that the challenge is having adequate staff to manage the program,” said Steven D’Amato. “The big challenge will be the workforce challenge as we have more insured patients.”

Wendy Andrews, who is a practice manager, noted that Arizona has expanded Medicaid, which has moved many patients from self-pay to Medicaid. While they are seeing more patients with insurance, these patients all tend to be underinsured.

Another challenge expressed by each of the panelists is the pressing need to help patients understand their insurance coverage and, especially, their out-of-pocket costs.

During the first year of the Marketplace in Arizona, those trying to help consumers with plan selection often had a lack of knowledge [about coverage] and patients were “actually given the wrong information,” Ms. Andrews said. Now, in the Marketplace’s second year, this problem continues.

From the patient advocate’s perspective, George Dahlman finds that the Marketplace experience is exposing consumers’ education gaps. “We have 200 case workers that help patients with insurance problems and copay programs. [This is exposing] the biggest education gaps for consumers. Most people look at the insurance premiums—not what’s included in the benefits program” when purchasing coverage.

Andrews agreed, finding that “ninety percent of all patients really, truly do not understand their insurance benefits.”

Providers and patient advocate organizations alike are challenged to help educate consumers about their coverage. “These are complicated insurance products, and you’re educating two patient populations: previously insured and those who’ve never had insurance before. It’s a brave new world for consumers,” said Dahlman. Patients need information about whether they can keep their current providers when considering insurance options, and what their out-of-pocket costs will be.

“In our practice, it’s essential that patients meet with a financial advocate first,” said D’Amato. Wendy Andrews agreed. “We pre-register all of our patients and verify their benefits.” Her practice requires that patients also verify that they’ve made premium payments. As a result, the front-end administrative burden for providers has increased.

Finally, the panel touched on the impact of narrow networks within marketplace plans. In a rural state, like Maine, “you always worry about access,” said D’Amato. “Creation of narrow networks creates inconvenience for patients.” In Arizona, Andrews said,“the problem we see the most is lack of providers being available in all the plans. What does a patient do when there isn’t a provider in their plan and they have to travel long distances [for care]?”

In summary, the panelists’ described three key challenges post-ACA implementation:

  • Access challenges, i.e., having enough providers to meet increased patient demand; narrow networks potentially limiting patient access to providers
  • Education challenges, i.e., increased need to help patients, both previously insured and those who are newly insured, understand their coverage and out-of-pocket costs, and
  • Front-end administrative burdens, i.e., verifying coverage, understanding patients’ insurance plan coverage, and helping identify resources for underinsured patients.

The Sun is Shining. . . .Now What?

By Matt Farber, MA, Director, Provider Economics & Public Policy, ACCC

453142595On Sept. 30, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the first round of Open Payments data to the public. The Open Payments program, which was mandated by a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as the Sunshine Act, requires drug and device manufacturers to report any payments or transfers of value – such as money for research activities, speaking fees, meals and travel – to physicians and teaching hospitals.

The recently released data is based on five months of payment reports, collected from August through December 2013. CMS continues to collect payment information this year and reporting on all 2014 expenditures is expected sometime next summer.

CMS provided a relatively short window (45 days) during which physicians could register and log in to the Open Payments system, check the accuracy of data reports and, if necessary, dispute any reports that they did not believe to be accurate.  Unfortunately, most physicians did not review the reports before public release of the data. In fact, technical glitches with the Open Payments system—approximately one-third of the payment reports had “intermingled data”—caused  CMS to shut the system down for several days during the physician data review window.  In the face of these technical difficulties, both the American Medical Association and PhRMA urged CMS to delay the public release of the Open Payments data but, as we’ve seen, CMS held firm on the Sept. 30 release date.

What Does This Mean for Providers?

First, ACCC recommends that all physicians log in to the Open Payments system, and ensure that all data reports are accurate. CMS is reporting that 4.4 million payments were made during the second half of 2013, totaling $3.5 billion attributable to 546,000 individual practitioners and 1,360 teaching hospitals. Of the 546,000 individuals, only 26,000 (less than 5 percent) registered in the system, the first necessary step to verifying data reports. In addition, CMS suppressed 40 percent of the Open Payments records released because the agency could not reconcile differences in provider names and numbers reported by industry. CMS expects these data to be corrected in time for the next reporting period.

A yet-to-be resolved issue is what will happen with these data. First, it is important to note, as CMS has, that these payments do not necessarily signal wrongdoing; physicians have relationships with industry for a host of reasons, some of which are critical to advancements in innovative medical therapies and patient care. This glimpse into payments is just that: a limited window into billions of dollars in industry spending. ACCC has also long stated that we do not believe that the Open Payments data will greatly impact patients’ choice of providers.  There will certainly be outliers, physicians who have a high dollar figure associated with them (not counting those with research money attributed to them) who may draw the attention of the media. This may be especially true if the same physicians appear with a high Medicare payment figure from CMS’ earlier release of data on Medicare payments to physicians. But for a majority of providers, we predict little impact.

Moreover, ACCC hopes that Open Payments data reporting will not have unintended consequences, such as a chilling effect on participation in clinical research. For example, if providers do not want their name to appear in the data reports, they may no longer participate in industry-sponsored trials, nor will they accept certain publications from industry, important activities to advancements in clinical research and cancer care. In addition, if CMS finalizes its proposed rule on the 2015 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule that included elimination of the exemption for payments made to speakers at CME events, the sunshine reporting may have a negative impact on participation in certain CME programming.

If you are a physician or if you work with physicians who have not yet registered in the system, we highly encourage registering today to ensure the accuracy of the reporting. For more information, click here.

Will 90-Day Rule Leave Providers Holding the Bag?

By Sydney Abbott, JD, Manager, Provider Economics & Public Policy, ACCC

healthcareImplementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is bringing many changes to the healthcare system, including the establishment of health insurance exchanges and new requirements for insurance coverage.

Health insurance exchanges (also known as health insurance marketplaces) provide an option for patients to purchase health insurance outside of employer-based plans and are a step toward the goal of universal coverage. However, because all plans offered through an exchange must meet minimum health benefits and satisfy other insurance reforms, such as a cap on annual benefits and coverage for young adults, individual plan premiums on the exchanges are often more expensive than patients expect. This could lead–and in some cases, has already led–to missed premium payments.

In the event of a lapsed premium payment for individuals enrolled in a federally facilitated exchange (FFE) plan, the ACA gives patients 90 days to become current on any past payments before insurance coverage is terminated. The ACA replaces all existing state laws with the 90 day rule. The rule applies to all consumers, in all states, who purchase subsidized coverage through the FFE health insurance marketplace.

How the 90-Day Rule Works

Here’s how the 90-day grace period works. After the first premium is made, patients have 90 days to pay the next premium. If the patient doesn’t pay the premium for the second month, the insurer can hold all claims. At the end of the third month, if the patient still has not paid, the insurer may terminate the policy.

Unfortunately, there is one wrinkle in the 90-day rule that is concerning for providers. This issue only applies to those individuals who receive tax subsidies to purchase insurance through the FFE insurance marketplace. In this instance, if a consumer still fails to make a payment after 90 days and his or her coverage is dropped, insurers are not required to pay for claims incurred during the last 60 days of the grace period. This means that if coverage for these patients is dropped for nonpayment, physicians must work directly with the patients to collect payments for the balance incurred during days 31-90 of the grace period.

While this issue only applies to individuals who receive tax subsidies to purchase insurance through the federally facilitated insurance exchanges, providers need to know that patients’ insurance cards will not include information on whether or not the patient is receiving subsidies. Claims unpaid the 31st through the 90th day may be pended by the insurer. If the enrollee never pays his or her share, the claim is not payable by the insurer.

Chilling Effect?

During a recent House Energy & Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, insurers were asked about health insurance marketplace enrollment and premium payment by enrollees. Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) and other subcommittee members expressed concern over the 90-day grace period and the chilling effect it may have on provider participation in exchange plans.  Insurance company executives testifying at the hearing assured the subcommittee that adequate systems are in place to give physicians the ability to determine patient payment and eligibility status. Industry representatives said call centers, and in some instances online applications, are available for premium payment verification. However, premium status policies vary by company and so providers and their staff are left with a complex process for determining a patient’s status. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee remained concerned that this information is not readily available to healthcare providers  who might ultimately be left unreimbursed for care already provided.

ACCC agrees with the concerns expressed by House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee members and urges Congress and the Administration to work together to require more easily accessible and real-time patient status data to be available to providers. ACCC has submitted a letter to the Administration about this issue and continues to work with members of Congress to raise the volume.  We will keep members posted on any developments on the 90-day grace period.

ACCC Urges Full Coverage of LDCT Screening for Lung Cancer

By Matt Farber, Director of Provider Economics & Public Policy, ACCC

healthcareLast week’s Medicare Evidence Development & Coverage Advisory Committee (MEDCAC) low confidence vote for annual low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening for patients at high-risk for lung cancer came as quite a surprise. The Medicare national coverage determination panel’s vote is disappointing in light of the evidence of mortality benefit demonstrated in the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) December 2013 grade “B” recommendation.

The USPSTF recommends annual screening for lung cancer with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) in adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. The recommendation states that screening should be discontinued once a person has not smoked for 15 years or develops a health problem that substantially limits life expectancy or the ability or willingness to have curative lung surgery. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires private payers to cover services rated highly by the USPSTF, including LDCT, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the ACA does not mandate the same coverage for Medicare. So providers are awaiting a Medicare national coverage determination (NCD).

ACCC member cancer programs have been following the issue of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer closely. Many community cancer programs have developed or are in the process of developing evidence-based lung screening programs in response to the evidence presented in the NLST study and the USPSTF final recommendation.

ACCC recently submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) urging full coverage of lung screening for individuals at high risk.

According to media reports, among the MEDCAC panel’s main concerns were the high false-positive rate of CT screening, the potential for LDCT screening to expand beyond the intended high-risk population, and quality issues for scans with low radiation dose. The issues raised by the panel highlight some of the real-world challenges encountered when translating research into practice.

It’s important to keep in mind that Medicare does not have to follow the recommendations of the MEDCAC, so the panel’s recommendation is not the end of the story for LDCT screening coverage. In fact, even if Medicare does agree with the MEDCAC, the public will still have the opportunity to comment on the national coverage decision before a final version is released.

So, while this recommendation is certainly disappointing, it is not the end of the advocacy efforts for ACCC and our members. Stay tuned for the proposed NCD later this year, and more from ACCC. The proposed national coverage determination is due in mid-November, and the public will have 30 days to comment.

ACCC will keep its members updated as this policy evolves. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Matt Farber at mfarber@accc-cancer.org.

Payment Reform—Beyond the Buzzwords

dollarsignby Amanda Patton, Manager, Communications, ACCC

Pay for performance. Bundling. Episodic payments. ACOs. PCMHs. Payment reform buzzwords are now part of the oncology landscape as providers try to envision what the future will look like.

As healthcare reforms move us away from a volume-based payment model toward new value-based models—it’s hard for those on the front lines of cancer care to gauge exactly where oncology is in the transition process.

On April 1, ACCC Annual National Meeting keynote speaker Kavita Patel, MD, MS, will present an insider’s view of the progress to date in the shift from fee for service payment in oncology to quality and value-based models. Dr. Patel is a Fellow and Managing Director in the Engelberg Center for Healthcare Reform at the Brookings Institution.  She has been leading efforts around payment reform in oncology in the private and public sector, including advising the recent Specialty Physician Payment Model Opportunities Assessment and Design (SPPMOAD) project of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).  Additionally, her current research focuses on payment models in cardiology, gastroenterology, and primary care.  Her knowledge is built on practical clinical experience as a primary care physician as well as her experience serving as a senior advisor to President Barack Obama and the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

In a recent conversation, Dr. Patel gave us a preview of the issues she’ll discuss at the ACCC’s upcoming Annual National Meeting. Read on for a glimpse into how she thinks oncology care delivery may look in the future.

In the near term, Patel believes oncology is likely to experience more pressure to drive down the cost of drugs by forcing doctors not to use high-cost drugs; more pressure for demonstration of adherence to guidelines and pathways; and increasing documentation requirements about patient-reported measures such as pain and symptom management.

Looking further down the road, the many new payment models under consideration make the future a little fuzzier. “Right now in cancer it’s really just fee for service; anything that’s not fee for service would be interesting—ACOs, medical homes, pay for performance, bundled payments, capitation, global budgets,” Patel said. But the move away from fee-for-service is a certainty.

Whatever shape new payment systems take, Dr. Patel thinks it could affect the composition of the oncology workforce. “Our traditional roles might have to be adapted,” she said. “Right now doctors are getting paid to see a lot of patients.” If oncology shifts to value-based payment models, there may be a change in who delivers some patient care. “It might not be doctors and it might not even be nurse practitioners; it may be oncology community health workers.”  Who might fill the role of oncology community health worker? Often these staff are lay persons who can help patients navigate the delivery system and serve as a point of coordination and outreach on the many issues which impact health beyond the four walls of a doctor’s office, such as transportation, housing and nutrition, she said.

Dr. Patel will share more insights and help set the stage for meeting sessions that will provide a deeper dive on topics such as strategies for growth in cancer care delivery, alternate payment models in oncology, the role of physician extenders on the cancer care team, and more at the ACCC Annual National Meeting, March 31-April 2, in Arlington, Virginia.