I’m getting a lot of reminders and updates on things that should be done by the end of the year. CMS sent out a reminder that there are 30 days left to submit an “informal review request” after physicians review their 2016 PQRS Feedback Reports and 2016 Annual Quality and Resource Use Reports. These became available on September 18, 2017 and show physicians whether they will receive the 2018 PQRS downward payment adjustment. You have to love such a fancy way of describing a penalty. I continue to be surprised by the number of physicians who still don’t know what a QRUR is or how to review it to see how they’re doing with what CMS sees as their quality metrics.
Although we’re still waiting for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule, it’s a safe bet that it will be finalized close to what was presented in the Proposed Rule. Physicians who review their reports and feel their payment adjustment status is inaccurate can request an informal review of the results through December 1. Even if you think your results are accurate, the QRUR provides some good information on how CMS thinks you are doing and can be used to help inform future plans for the transition to value based care.
The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) has launched a new journal, JAMIA OPEN, that is aimed at sharing research with the broader community. All articles will be open access and the online journal will include a focus on innovation and diversity across AMIA’s informatics areas. The format will also include abstracts written in patient-facing language so that non-informatics readers can understand how the research described might be relevant to patient care.
I don’t have time to attend most vendors’ earnings calls, but I enjoy reading the transcripts. I’m having difficulty reconciling some industry trends with the reality of healthcare in the US. Athena isn’t the only one in this situation, but there was a fair amount of discussion during the earnings call, so they’re top of mind.
The problem is this: the powers that be have decided that we need to move towards value-based care, yet organizations are still aligning themselves around traditionally fee-for-service models. Athena is still hanging its hat on the “visits per provider” metric and blaming decreased visits (partially due to recent hurricanes) on decreasing earnings. I get how the math works, but isn’t decreasing visits one of the key goals of managed care and/or value-based care? We want to keep patients healthier and out of the office, out of the hospital, or if they do have to come in, have them in less frequently.
Whether it’s a natural disaster or natural attrition of business due to healthier patients, having vendors continue to be dependent on encounter volume or charge volume seems like it’s going to be a long-term problem and not just a short-term one related to storms. Other economic factors such as lack of insurance or job loss also negatively impact these numbers, and depending on how things go in 2018, they may become larger factors for subgroups of Americans. People who don’t have insurance and don’t have jobs usually don’t have money and therefore don’t go to the doctor. Then when they do, it can often be a desperate situation ending in write-offs, bad debt, or agency-based collections.
Towards the end of the call, one of the analysts asked about utilization trends, specifically whether an increase in collections later in the year could be linked to high-deductible health plans. He asked whether utilization is increasing as people hit those deductibles and whether it will start to go back down after the beginning of the calendar year. I can’t speak for others, but as someone who has met her deductible for the first time in my life, I can tell you my healthcare utilization did change. What was different this year was having major surgery, which in my situation as a relatively healthy person, is the only way I could possibly have met my deductible. Once I knew I was over that hump, I made sure I completed some previously-recommended preventive services that would otherwise have had large patient-pay components and that I completed them during this calendar year. I’d have had the tests eventually, but meeting my deductible took away any financial excuse for not doing so. Had I not have had surgery, though, I might have been tempted to push those screenings into 2018.
Jonathan Bush responded to the question specifically citing visits per physician as “the biggest needle-mover.” This is where I have trouble wrapping my brain around a vendor who seems to be approaching a conflict of interest with what their physicians need to do to succeed under payment reform. If vendors are incented by patient volume, how dedicated will they be to building features that manage things like prospective payments or capitated-type payments? How interested will they be in helping practices manage problems around the true cost of care? I don’t have a lot of knowledge of how Athena does things specifically, but I know with some of the other vendors I work with, those types of features and that type of support still feel like an afterthought.
There was another question that dealt specifically with value based payments and whether ACOs are impacting volumes. Bush mentions that interoperability should reduce duplicate procedures and testing, but they can’t yet draw conclusions from the data they are seeing. Of course, all of this also begs the question of whether a revenue cycle or practice management system vendor is the right entity to help a practice through these difficult times or whether it’s a bit like the fox guarding the hen house. Maybe practices would be better off receiving information from independent advisors or from regional or specialty medical societies.
Where do you get your information about how to best manage the shift to value based care and how to cope with payment reform? Leave a comment or email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.