Category: Medicare

Medicare’s Pioneer ACOs Ending with a Whimper?

UntitledThis blog has covered the mediocre and inconclusive results of Medicare’s Pioneer Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model for a couple of years now. A new research paper in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association furthers the narrative that the much ballyhooed program has very slim results:

 

 

 

Results  Total spending for beneficiaries aligned with Pioneer ACOs in 2012 or 2013 increased from baseline to a lesser degree relative to comparison populations. Differential changes in spending were approximately −$35.62 (95% CI, −$40.12 to −$31.12) per-beneficiary-per-month (PBPM) in 2012 and -$11.18 (95% CI, −$15.84 to −$6.51) PBPM in 2013, which amounted to aggregate reductions in increases of approximately −$280 (95% CI, −$315 to −$244) million in 2012 and −$105 (95% CI, −$148 to −$61) million in 2013. Inpatient spending showed the largest differential change of any spending category (−$14.40 [95% CI, −$17.31 to −$11.49] PBPM in 2012; −$6.46 [95% CI, −$9.26 to −$3.66] PBPM in 2013). Changes in utilization of physician services, emergency department, and postacute care followed a similar pattern. Compared with other Medicare beneficiaries, ACO-aligned beneficiaries reported higher mean scores for timely care (77.2 [ACO] vs 71.2 [FFS] vs 72.7 [MA]) and for clinician communication (91.9 [ACO] vs 88.3 [FFS] vs 88.7 [MA]).

Let’s leave the quality measurements aside for now, and focus on the fiscal effects. There appears to be a small positive effect. However, it appears extremely slim and likely even illusory for a number of reasons:

Republicans Reach for Redemption on Medicare “Doc Fix”

Politico reports that Congressional Republicans might be having second thoughts about the extremely flawed, so-called Medicare “doc fix” legislation that they sent to President Obama a few days ago. One of those flaws was that the spending in the bill was not offset by cuts to other federal spending – which is why almost every Democrat in Congress voted for it too.

Well, they appear to be getting the message that NCPA has been sending them since March 25:

…… one GOP source said negotiators had resolved a sticking point over how to offset a recently enacted bipartisan Medicare overhaul that was not entirely paid for. The source said the agreement is likely to offset the overhaul, often called the “doc fix,” starting next year.

Better late than never. How they will get President Obama to sign any bill that offsets spending that was already committed by his signature on March 15 is unclear. (All they had to do in the original bill was remove two short sentences that exempted the spending from the so-called PAYGO scorecards. Had they done so, they would not have to worry about it today.)

Barack Obama Has the Last Word on the Medicare “Doc Fix”

I thought that I had given the last word on the flawed Medicare “doc fix” last Monday. Nope: That honor goes to President Obama. During the three week period the secretly negotiated “doc fix” legislation was being rushed through Congress (“rushed” because the Senate was in recess for most of it), I wrote an article suggesting Republicans who voted for it might be casting their first vote for Obamacare. Well, don’t take my word for it. Now that he’s signed the bill, President Obama has hosted a fabulous garden party for the politicians who voted for it. Yahoo has the whole story, including a photo of Speaker Boehner planting a bipartisan kiss on the cheek of Minority Leader Pelosi. One of my charges was that the law increased federal control of the practice of medicine.

Here’s what the President had to say about that:

“I shouldn’t say this with John Boehner here, but that’s one way that this legislation builds on the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said, adding, “But let’s put that aside for a second.”

Hospitals “Turbocharge” Medicare Claims

Today’s Consumer Price Index release shows a big jump in prices for hospital services. The Wall Street Journal has an exemplary piece of investigative journalism discussing one way hospitals gouge Medicare:

A Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare claims data and financial filings from medical facilities shows that many hospitals increased prices faster than costs rose, affecting outlier payments. The Journal identified $2.6 billion in overpayments Medicare made to general hospitals between 2010 and 2013 because of overestimates of hospitals’ costs—about one-sixth of outlier payments in the analysis.

At Christ Hospital, more than 40% of outlier payments between July 2012, when the hospital was acquired by an investor group during bankruptcy proceedings, and the end of 2013 were due solely to an increase in prices, the Journal analysis shows.

The Medicare agency took steps in 2003 to deter hospitals from raising prices to increase outlier payments, sometimes referred to as “turbocharging.”

(Christopher Weaver, Anna Wilde Mathews, & Tom McGinty, “Medicare Pays as Hospital Prices Rise,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2015)

Well, that’s 12 years ago, and it obviously hasn’t worked. The only way to get hospitals to quite manipulating chargemaster prices is to get the government out of fixing hospital charges.

Means Testing Medicare Premiums

Soon after House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi surprised the House of Representatives with a so-called Medicare “doc fix” that would cement important Obamacare gains, NCPA sprang into action and proposed an alternative.

Since March 25, this blog has been heavily loaded with articles addressing the topic. Unfortunately, we were not able to overcome the Obamacare coalition this time, and the legislation passed without amendments.

Many readers have asked why I did not address means-testing Medicare premiums, which account for about $34 billion of the revenue raised in the bill. The answer is that Part B (physician) and Part D (prescription drug) premiums have been means tested for years. The “doc fix” does not include a change in principle in this regard. Also, increased means testing has long been proposed by most Republicans and conservatives, so that measure did not constitute a broken promise like the rest of the bill did.

“Doc Fix”: The War of All Against All Begins!

The U.S. Senate passed H.R. 2, the so-called Medicare “doc fix,” 92-8 last night.  By the time you read this, President Obama will likely already have signed it. He’s eager to do so, because it locks in Obamacare’s vision of the relationship between physicians and the state.

This was a seriously flawed bill, as NCPA has discussed exhaustively (here and here). Now, doctors and patients will have to get used to a new reality where the federal government and beltway lobbyists’ priorities are more deeply embedded in physicians’ offices than ever.

Billy Wynne at the Health Affairs blog has a very good, dispassionate response to the bill’s passage. Wynne starts by describing the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS):

More Criticism of the Medicare “Doc Fix”

From Paul Winfree of the Heritage Foundation:

Rather than a permanent replacement to the Sustainable Growth Rate, it is much more likely that the House doc fix will be shorter term patch requiring another series of patchwork legislation just nine years from now.

From David Hogberg of the National Center for Public Policy Research:

When the Senate returns from recess this week, it will consider the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act” (MACR). The bill has acquired many names such as “The Doc Fix Fix” and “Budget Buster,” but a more appropriate one is “IPAB-lite.”

IPAB — the Independent Payment Advisory Board — was created as part of Obamacare to cut Medicare expenditures whenever those expenditures grew too quickly. Thankfully, IPAB’s unpopularity has thus far prevented it from getting off the ground. Unfortunately, the changes MACR makes to Medicare’s payment system seem very much along the lines of what IPAB would do.

(Readers may be forgiven for wondering when I will let go of this so-called Medicare “doc fix”. We expect a vote in the U.S. Senate tonight – but do not guarantee it!)

From Left and Right; Opposition to Flawed Medicare “Doc Fix”

The U.S. Senate will have to deal with the flawed so-called Medicare “doc fix” Wednesday at the latest, if doctors are not to suffer a significant drop in their payments from Medicare.

Voices from both right and left have discovered serious problems with the bill, and proposing solutions. Here are three examples:

Fix The Flawed Medicare Doc Fix

For over a decade, Congress has struggled with an inadequate formula to calculate Medicare payments to physicians.  The formula results in an amount too low to ensure physicians will continue to see Medicare beneficiaries.  At least once a year, Congress has to pass a short-term increase to Medicare physician payments to prevent fees dropping about 20 percent.  The current boost expired on March 31, 2015, and Congress is currently considering legislation, H.R. 2, to fix the problem permanently.

According to a new Issue Brief published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, the currently proposed legislation is a poor doc fix for two major reasons:

Medicare Advantage Plans Become Entrenched

Cheerful Senior Man Having His Blood Pressure TakenThe Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that payments to Medicare Advantage plans will increase by 1.25 percent next year. Less than a month ago, the plan was to cut payments by 0.95 percent.

Medicare Advantage plans are comprehensive plans that seniors can chose instead of the traditional Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) model.Because they are offered by private insurers, Obamacare was supposed to crush Medicare Advantage.

However, this is the third year the Administration has flinched from cuts that would deny people access to these plans. More seniors are in Medicare Advantage today than when Obamacare was passed.

We think Medicare Advantage plans are a good thing, and a foundation for further Medicare reform. So, this development is good news. Further, there appears to be bipartisan agreement that Medicare Advantage is a good thing:

Democrats were wary of a program launched by Bush that they saw as a giveaway to insurance companies.

But as time has passed, support has grown in both parties for the program.

“The worst fears were not materialized,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who signed the letter this year against the cuts. “It’s growing in popularity among our constituents and it provides an option.” (Peter Sullivan, The Hill)