Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Time is running short on the opportunity to comment on a proposed rule further increasing transparency in hospital pricing.  The rule was released July 29 and was quickly panned by providers and insurers over provisions requiring hospitals to publicly disclose the negotiated rates they have with third-party payers.

Comments on the rule are due September 27, 2019.

Action by the federal government to increase price transparency in health care is not new, of course.  Section 2718(e) of the Public Health Service Act (PHS) was added by the Affordable Care Act to require all hospitals to make public, upon request, the standard charges for the items and services they provide.  
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In January of 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) implemented a helpful change to the signature exception to the Stark Law. In particular, the exception may now be used more than once during a 3-year period for compensation arrangements with the same referring physician.

History of Signature Exception

The signature exception to the Stark Law has undergone several revisions within the past few years. The original version of the exception was implemented by CMS effective October 1, 2008 in response to concerns regarding the potential for significant Stark Law penalties for mere “technical” violations of the statute. The original language in the signature exception provided for a grace period for noncompliance with the signature requirement of many of the compensation arrangement exceptions to the Stark Law, such as the personal service arrangements exception and fair market value exception. In particular, a 90-day grace period was permitted for late signatures that were inadvertent, and a 30-day grace period was permitted for late signatures that were “not inadvertent.” In addition, the exception could only be used once for the same referring physician during a 3-year period. In other words, after the exception was used once by a DHS entity for a late signature on a compensation agreement with a referring physician, any late signatures on other agreements entered into by the DHS entity and the same referring physician during the following 3-year period would trigger a violation of the Stark Law.
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For decades, pundits, policymakers and consumer groups have called for better tools to make health care purchasing decisions easier.  Greater cost transparency and clear indicators of quality, they say, would help consumers make the right choices, which would lead to lower costs and better quality care.

If only it were as easy as using Angie’s List:  describe the need and up pops the names of local providers, along with comparative information on their performance.

Increasingly, such information and tools are available.  But their impact is unclear.

Since 2010, Medicare consumers have had an “Angie’s List” type of resource in Physician Compare, an online service produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  The website was mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  It serves a two-fold purpose, according to CMS:
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Hospitals are not happy with CMS’ recent changes to hospital outpatient payments.  Two hospital associations and three hospitals claim in a federal lawsuit filed December 4, 2018, that CMS had no authority to change the payment scheme for off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs).  The change took effect January 1, 2019, and is estimated to reduce payments to hospitals by $380 million in the first year of a two-year phase-in period.

The plaintiffs, including the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, are seeking judgment that the payment change is unenforceable as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.  The complaint against US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs’ assert that the reduced payments threaten patient access to care and harm the providers’ ability to meet the health care needs of their patients, including some of the most vulnerable populations. 
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A new rule proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on October 26, 2018, would revise the way the agency validates the risk adjustment data and collects repayments from Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations. With the new methodology, CMS is expecting to return $4.5 billion in savings to the Medicare Trust Fund over 10 years, according to an October 26 CMS news release.
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Anticipating open enrollment season for coverage in 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released coverage and premium information that will factor into consumer decisions about Medicare and individual commercial plans offered through exchanges. Enrollment and premium trends also inform regulatory and broader policy decisions at both federal and state levels.
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This is the second article in our series on the new “Pathways” rules for Accountable Care Organizations. Our first article in the series can be found here.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report on August 27, 2018, showing Next Generation accountable care organizations (ACOs) produced net savings of $62 million in 2016 while maintaining quality of care.  CMS Administrator Seema Verma pointed to the savings as evidence that ACOs taking two-sided risk succeed, according to a CMS press release. 
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By now, everyone operating a skilled nursing facility knows about CMS’ 2016 overhaul of the Requirements for Participation for Long-Term Care Facilities (“RoPs”).  The final rule amending the RoPs was published on October 4, 2016.  See 81 Fed. Reg. 68688 (Oct. 4, 2016).  Many of the changes made by CMS do not impose new requirements on facilities, but instead clarify existing requirements.  While CMS has been implementing the various changes in three phases over a three-year period, facilities should by now have implemented or taken steps to implement all of the new requirements.

We have reviewed the new RoPs and guidance documents issued by CMS to determine how the changes impact nursing facility admission agreements.  There were changes or clarifications to a number of subjects that impact such agreements, including: resident discharge requirements, resident representative requirements, selection of attending physicians and other health care providers, room transfer and roommate requirements, visitation rights, facility liability for resident property, bed hold policies, etcetera.
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