The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (“MedPAC”) held its monthly public meetings in Washington, D.C., on November 1-2, 2018. The purpose of this and other MedPAC public meetings is for the commissioners to analyze existing challenges and issues within the Medicare program and to provide future policy recommendations to Congress. MedPAC issues these recommendations in two annual reports, one in March and another in June. These meetings offer a comprehensive perspective on the current state of Medicare as well as future outlooks for the program.
As thought leaders in healthcare law, Epstein Becker Green monitors MedPAC developments to determine how regulations and policies will impact the health care marketplace. Here are our five biggest takeaways from the November meeting:
- MedPAC Reviewed Mandate Related to Long-Term Care Hospitals and Presented Initial Findings Using Data Through 2016
In response to a congressional mandate due in June 2019, the Commission reviewed operational changes made by Long-term Care Hospitals (LTCHs) in response to policy changes and performance trends, patterns of post-hospital discharge to other post-acute care and hospice providers, and LTCH quality data since the implementation of the new dual-payment rate structure. For operational changes, the degree of change that occurred varied from facility to facility. It was reported that some LTCHs either changed their admission patterns to admit only patients who met criteria, continued to take beneficiaries who do not meet the criteria, or halted admitting cases that did not meet criteria. It was also reported that some LTCHs made efforts to contract with private payors, including Medicare Advantage plans, in order to expand the mix of patients and payors. Additionally, facilities examined increased their capabilities adding bariatric and ICU beds as well as telemetry services. However, these changes often led to a decline in occupancy and closures. Over 40 facilities closed (roughly 10% of the industry) – most located in an area with other LTCHs.
In terms of discharges, the share of cases that met the criteria for the new dual-payment rate structure increased from 50% to 64% over the last few years. This was attributed to some facilities having the capacity to change their admission patterns and take a higher share of cases that meet the criteria. Finally, LTCH quality data showed that measures of unadjusted direct acute-care hospital re-admissions, in-LTCH mortality, and 30-day mortality remained stable since 2015. Whereas 30-day mortality and re-admissions have remained at similar rates, the rate for in-LTCH mortality has increased. However, the Commission could not conclude whether these changes in quality were the result of implementing the dual-payment rate structure.
- MedPAC Discusses Ways CMS Could Improve the Use of Functional Assessment in the Medicare Program
MedPAC staff examined the pros and cons of the use of functional assessment in the Medicare program to improve functional assessment usage in the Medicare Program. MedPAC highlighted that patient assessment data does not always reflect the actual care needs of patients. Concerns relative to function data reported by Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRFs), Home Health Agencies, Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs), and Long-term Care Hospitals (LTCH) were expressed in regards to payment incentives received by these entities. When reporting rules changed relative to financial incentives, the mentioned entities changed the amount of therapy they offered and how they coded therapy modalities. MedPAC believed that if providers were making these changes based on financial incentives, the recording of disability would likely increase since payments are tied to functional status. Thus, the Commission suggested that CMS could help improve the accuracy of these provider-reported data or collect information about patient function by (1) improving monitoring of provider-reported assessment and penalize providers found misreporting; (2) requiring hospitals to complete discharge assessments to patients referred to post-acute care; and (3) gathering patient-reported outcomes (PROs).
- Promoting greater Medicare-Medicaid integration in dual-eligible special-needs plans
MedPAC presented potential policies that would promote greater Medicare-Medicaid integration in dual-eligible special needs plans (“D-SNPs”) to improve care coordination and health outcomes. Under the existing structure, D-SNPs only enroll dual eligible beneficiaries compared to regular plans which open up to all beneficiaries in their service area. D-SNPs are required to follow an evidence-based model of care and must take steps to integrate Medicaid coverage by forming contracts with states that meet certain minimum standards. However, there are D-SNPs that require higher standards for integration that are known as fully integrated D-SNPs, or FIDE SNPs, which enables such plans to receive higher Medicare payments. Under the FIDE SNP framework, the plan must have a capitated Medicaid contract, which includes acute and primary care services along with services like nursing home care. Currently, the challenge has been the low levels of integration as most plans either do not provide Medicaid services or provide a limited subset, such as Medicare cost sharing. Factors that have limited Medicaid integration in D-SNPs include the large number of D-SNP enrollees that are partial-benefit dual eligible as well as misaligned enrollment.
MedPAC proposed a couple of changes that could assist in achieving greater integration. First, it was proposed that there should be a limit on the ability of partial dual beneficiaries to enroll in D-SNPs. Secondly, the Commission proposed requiring D-SNPs to follow an aligned enrollment practice where beneficiaries cannot enroll in a D-SNP unless they were enrolled in a Managed Long Term Services and Supports (“MLTSS”) plan offered by the same parent company. The goal is that this policy would ensure that all D-SNP enrollees are receiving both Medicare and Medicaid benefits from the same parent company while laying the foundation for integration into other areas, such as developing a single care coordination process overseeing all Medicare and Medicaid service needs.
- MedPAC Reviews Its Recommendations for Improving the Medicare Advantage Quality Bonus Program and Provides Potential Next Steps
MedPAC led off its presentation by summarizing the Medicare Advantage (“MA”) quality bonus program, which has been implemented since 2012. This program pays bonuses to MA plans based on their overall “star rating,” which tracks and weighs forty-six quality measures. MA plan contracts greater than or equal to a 4-star rating receive the bonus, which ultimately increases a plan’s ability to receive rebate dollars (and therefore attract beneficiaries by reducing enrollee premiums and/or offering coverage to a greater variety of services). Overall star ratings and the breakdown of MA plans’ individual quality measures are publicly reported and can be accessed via Medicare’s Health Plan Finder. MedPAC then expressed its concern for the effectiveness of these star ratings and resulting bonus payments. Notably, these star ratings are awarded at the MA contract level, meaning that the star rating often applies to a vast geographical region. Indeed, according to MedPAC, “about 40 percent of enrollees of MA [Health Maintenance Organizations] and local [Preferred Provider Organizations] are in contracts that include enrollees from non-contiguous states.” Moreover, MedPAC stated that boosted star ratings are the result of health care “consolidations,” where the acquired MA contract inherits the star rating of the “surviving” MA contract. These factors have led to “unwarranted bonus payments” and decreased reliance on star rating as an indicator for plan quality in the enrollee’s region.
In its March 2018 report to Congress, MedPAC recommended two courses of action to address these flaws: (1) freeze quality reporting units at pre-consolidation so these plans do not inherit the ratings of their acquirer and (2) require quality reporting at local market level instead of the large MA contract level. In the meeting, MedPAC stated that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 partly addressed the first recommendation—the act requires an average of quality results for consolidated contracts effective in year 2020.
MedPAC then provided its current recommendations for improving the MA quality bonus program. MedPAC advocated for (1) restructuring the MA bonus evaluation system to remove the current seventeen “process measures” and (2) implementing a “claims-based” outcome measures based on MA claims and encounters, which would, according to MedPAC, improve accuracy and uniformity, align more closely with fee-for-service quality results, and lessen reporting burdens. MedPAC also presented “cliff” and “plateau” issues with the bonus cutoff and offered the potential solution of “a continuous scale for bonus payments” similar to its hospital value incentive program (“HVIP”). MedPAC also presented this solution to address the “tournament model” of the current star system. Finally, MedPAC proposed solutions to various issues with the quality measures (e.g., uneven measure adjustments, narrow differences in measure results, etc.). MedPAC plans to further discuss how to move the MA quality bonus program towards budget neutrality.
- MedPAC Reviews Medicare Advantage Encounter Data and Introduces Proposed Policy Options for the Program
In 2012, CMS started to collect “encounter data” from MA plans, mainly for purposes of risk adjustment. MedPAC stated that it has access to this encounter data for 2012–2014 (and “preliminary files” for 2015) for six provider types/settings. For each of these settings, MedPAC validated encounter data by comparing it with other data sources of MA utilization. MedPAC uncovered three broad categories of MA encounter data issues in its review: (1) MA plans “are not successfully submitting encounters for all settings,” (2) “about 1 % of encounter data records attribute enrollees to the wrong plan,” and (3) there were substantial differences in encounter data from other data sources used for comparison. MedPAC focused its discussion on addressing this third issue.
MedPAC compared encounter data with four other MA utilization sources that originate from provider reports (including hospitals, home health agencies, skilled nursing facilities, and dialysis facilities). Encounter data was not consistent with these reports. In 2015, the percentage of MA enrollees reported in encounter data were consistent with the following reports:
- 90% encounter data consistency with data reported by hospitals (for inpatient stays)
- 89% consistency with data reported by dialysis facilities (for having dialysis services)
- 49% consistency with data reported by skilled nursing facilities (for skilled nursing stays)
- 47% consistency with data reported by home health agencies (for home health services)
These results, combined with MA plans’ lack of encounter data submissions, demonstrate a need for CMS to better assess encounter data completeness and ensure consistency and ability to utilize this data for risk adjustment. MedPAC then gave three policy options to incentivize MA plans to submit complete encounter data: (1) to expand the performance metric framework (e.g., to include specific information about missing encounter data); (2) to apply payment withholds proportional to degree of incomplete encounter data submissions; and (3) to collect encounter data through Medicare Administrative Contractors (which already process fee-for-service claims for all Part A and B services). By enforcing complete encounter data through these methods, MedPAC hopes to learn more about how care is provided to MA enrollees and ensure Medicare benefits are properly administered.
 MedPAC expressed concern that various “consolidation strategies” may still result in unwarranted higher star ratings and accompanying bonus payments.
 MedPAC asserted that these administrative measures could effectively be monitored by compliance activities.
 Currently, the 4-star requirement for bonus acquisition causes two distinct issues. Contracts with a overall rating of less than 3.75 stars (which is rounded to 4 stars) do not receive any bonus payments (i.e., the “cliff”), and contracts with an overall rating above 4 stars receive “the same benchmark increase” as those with 4-star ratings (i.e., the “plateau”) and there are minimal incentives to reaching star rating above a 4.
 Under this tournament model, 5-star plans exist despite decreases in overall quality. MedPAC also suggested the establishment of pre-set objectives to promote improvement.
 Health care providers generate this “encounter data,” which includes detailed documentation of diagnosed clinical conditions and items and services furnished to treat these conditions.
 The six provider types/settings MedPAC referred to are “physician/supplier Part B,” inpatient hospital, outpatient hospital skilled nursing facility, home health, and durable medical equipment.
 According to MedPAC, only 80% of MA contracts have “at least one encounter record for each of the six settings.”
 MedPAC asserts that this issue may be corrected by changing data processing.