Tag Archives: Affordable Care Act

Update from Capitol Hill

By Brittney Fairman, MPS, MA, ACCC Policy Analyst

U.S. CapitolAt the end of last week, it was anticipated that the U.S. Senate would hold a vote on the Senate Republicans’ revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) today, Tuesday, July 18. However, over the weekend,  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) underwent an emergency surgery and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the vote on BCRA would be postponed until Senator McCain’s return to Washington, D.C. With two Senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME), already openly opposed to voting ‘Yes’ on BCRA—Senator McCain’s absence would have put the Republican Senators’ vote on the bill at risk.

In order to continue the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republicans would need at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans to vote in favor of BCRA.

On Monday evening, the bill took another turn when Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) jointly announced their opposition of a motion to proceed on the revised healthcare bill. These two additional defections on Senator McConnell’s bill means the Senate Majority does not currently have the votes to even begin debate on the legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

So at this point, the future of BCRA remains uncertain. On Monday evening, Majority Leader McConnell stated, “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful.” President Trump has suggested the Senate Majority move forward in repealing the ACA without immediate replacement.  In this scenario, the Senate would vote in the coming days on a bill which would delay the ACA’s repeal for two years as Republicans work on individual bills to dismantle the current healthcare law.

ACCC will continue to monitor the Senate’s actions and keep ACCC members posted with the latest updates.

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.

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.